Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Vote That Shook Mexico

In the home-city of the pro-life movement's patroness, Mexico City's legislature has legalized first-trimester abortions:
The vote came despite strong opposition from Mexican President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the powerful Mexican Catholic church, with Calderon's wife having taken part Sunday in an anti-abortion protest.

After seven hours of fierce debate, the vote was 46 in favor, 19 against and one abstention in the city legislature, which is dominated by the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Backers and opponents of the bill had demonstrated outside the legislature as the 66 lawmakers debated, with police deployed as the two sides traded bitter insults which mirrored the emotional nature of the abortion debate in this socially conservative country.

"Damn fascists," one man yelled out at the anti-abortion protesters, to which a rival demonstrator answered "they should have aborted you, bloody murderer."

Placards stating "yes for life" were countered by those calling "for the right to decide."

The law made the megalopolis one of the rare parts of Latin America where abortion is legal without restrictions in the first three months of pregnancy. Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico, a US territory, have similar legislation.

The bill makes first trimester abortions legal in the capital, even though they remain generally illegal in the rest of the country.

Until now abortions in Mexico were only legal in cases of rape or if the pregnancy entailed serious health risks.

Tuesday's debate followed months of controversy, with Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI urging Mexicans to reject the bill and local Catholic officials threatening to excommunicate anyone supporting it.

The Catholic bishop of Chiapas state compared the legislators who drafted the text with Adolf Hitler, though he also condemned the fact some of them received death threats.

Supporters of the bill said a prohibition on all abortion only accentuates social inequalities, with impoverished women getting clandestine abortions in unhygienic backstreet clinics, and Mexicans who can afford to pay about 1,000 dollars undergoing the procedure in well-appointed, though still-illegal, facilities.

About 100,000 women have abortions every year in Mexico, according to official figures, though some non-governmental organizations say the figure is as high as 500,000.

According to the leftist Alternative party, clandestine abortions have killed more than 1,500 women over 10 years.

AFP/Luis Acosta