¿Ustedes tambien, Mexico?

In 18 months of blogging, I’ve only brought up abortion a handful of times (usually in service of a larger point). Today, for some reason, I’ve got two posts about it. Let’s hope there’s nothing Freudian about that…

I agree with Kavita Ramdas that empowering women is the key to making progress in society. I am sure this will garner me my fair share of dirty looks from a crowd of people who will see this as sexist against men – I am as immune to your looks as you are to rational argument. I join Christopher Hitchens in recognizing the cure for poverty as being “the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.” A key component of such emancipation is the presence and defense of rights to abortion. However uncomfortable one might be with the idea, terminating unwanted pregnancy is part and parcel with recognizing a woman’s right to be reproductively autonomous. When women have the power to do with their bodies as they choose, the world becomes a better place for all of us.

Mexico doesn’t seem to recognize this:

Mexico’s Supreme Court has upheld an amendment to Baja California’s state constitution that stipulates life begins at conception, in a move hailed by anti-abortion campaigners. Although seven of the 11 justices deemed the measure unconstitutional, eight votes were needed to overturn it. More than half Mexico’s 31 states have enacted right-to-life amendments that severely restrict abortions.

I wonder if Baja will also recognize that, since life begins at conception, women who miscarry ought to be subject to prosecution for child neglect. Of course, life doesn’t begin at conception. Life, by all available evident, begins about 3.5 billion years ago. Our bodies teem with life – we eukaryotes are basically the equivalent of a trade union of cells. I can feel the doom-gaze of FTB’s biologists turning my way, so I will veer away from this line of reasoning after simply stating that the question of when life begins has nothing to do with the relevant questions surrounding abortion. The question of personhood is a good one, or perhaps even the question of suffering or what it means to be human are relevant here, but “life” doesn’t really enter in any meaningful way. (I can’t wait to have that line pulled and taken out of context by some anti-atheist publication).

Even if life were relevant to the discussion, it is a scientific question rather than a legal one. However, this doesn’t seem to be an argument that the courts in Baja – well, 4 of the 11 justices at least – thought worthy of consideration. It is perhaps no mystery why Mexico would be so sharply anti-choice, considering the deeply-entrenched ties that country has to the Catholic Church whose policies on abortion are downright inspirational (by which I mean they are inspiring many young people to leave the church). It is, however, regrettable, considering the rotten shape that the Mexican economy is in. If women’s reproductive rights are part of the key to reducing poverty, Mexican courts have just announced that they are pro-poverty.

Here’s what I can’t stomach about the anti-choice position: they are not fighting against compulsory abortion or a child-limiting policy. They are fighting to take the right to choose when to have children away from women and putting it squarely in the hands of horny teenagers, unscrupulous abusive husbands, religious belligerents, and improper condom use (a.k.a. God). I have heard the response to this argument – abortion is murder. We don’t let people ‘choose’ whether or not to murder, do we? The problem with this argument, aside from how reductive it is, is that it is a false claim. Murder has a very specific legal meaning. So does infanticide. The mere fact that we do not consider infanticide equivalent to murder – in a legal sense – reveals that, like it or not, abortion is absolutely not murder.

But legal wranglings aside, this is a sad day for the women of Baja state, who I’m sure needed this ruling like they needed a kick in the uterus from a fetus brought to term against their will.

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  1. Timid Atheist says

    While I whole heartedly believe that women should be free to choose how they care for their bodies, I’d like to point out that some women in other countries are actually denied the ability to have children or restricted on how many they can have.

    I read a blog post by Flavia Dzodan that addresses how many of the indigenous women of South America were force sterilized and so when these same people are then urged to think of abortion rights it doesn’t click with them the same way it does with those of us who haven’t gone through what they have had to deal with.

    Here is the link: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/08/04/al-jazeera-shocked-because-female-politicians-in-latin-america-do-not-identify-as-feminists-here%E2%80%99s-some-context/#more-3635

    As Ms. Dzodan says, “Many indigenous and mestizo women (and by many, I mean hundreds of thousands in the entire continent, -just consider that 300,000 were victimized in Peru alone!) were subjected to forced sterilizations, which means that when feminists come with proposals or programs to push for abortion rights above any other gender matter, they alienate these women for whom the idea of reproductive justice is not just on a different page, but it entails a whole different kind of justice and reparations.”

    Like I said, I agree very much with your assessment that women have a right to choose. I think labeling it as pro-choice is a better way to approach situations like this because it identifies that these women who were forcefully sterilized should have had the choice as to whether they wanted that procedure done.

    I’m talking from privilege; I’m a cis-gendered white woman in my early thirties, so I could be entirely off base. If that’s the case, please let me know. I am pleased to see these kinds of discussions started by others because it helps me learn more and helps me check myself and ensure that I’m thinking of everyone and not just myself and those like me.

  2. Crommunist says

    That is certainly a perspective that I hadn’t considered. I guess the calling cards of feminism in the USA and Canada don’t really translate universally. Still, the underlying message that women ought to be empowered to make their own decisions and participate as equals applies just as much in Peru as it does in Perth, as it does in Pittsburgh, as it does in Pala, as it does in Pamplona.

  3. says

    I wonder if Baja will also recognize that, since life begins at conception, women who miscarry ought to be subject to prosecution for child neglect.

    It already happened in another (also northern) state. I’m about to teach a class, but if I found the link my wife sent me a few months ago, I’ll post it here.

  4. Crommunist says

    Christ, that’s depressing. It makes you want to shake these people and ask them what the hell their end game is.

    What sort of teacher are you?

  5. says

    What I teach, depends on the day: today is political science, Mondays is Latino studies. but during the rest of the week I’m a secularism scholar that specializes in Congress or a congressional scholar whose focus is secularism.

  6. Crommunist says

    Fascinating. I hope you’ll stick around and continue to provide your perspective, especially when I decide to stray outside my depth into Central/South American issues.

  7. martha says

    In the coffee shop of my small midwestern town, inserted in the local state college’s school newspaper, I found a huge, full color advertising supplement from the “Human Life Alliance.” It was an assemblage of lies & propaganda far beyond anything I remember seeing even at my Catholic alma mater, but very slick & probably convincing to the uninformed. I know a lot of university and college people read FTB, have you seen this thing on your campuses? It’s titled “And Justice for All.” Isn’t that sweet?

  8. San Ban says

    The law and the pro-sterilization drive in Peru is alleged to have used coercive methods (like promising food, threatening withdrawal of government aid, not informing the patients of non-permanent contraceptive methods) to dramatically increase the rate of sterilization uptake. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2148793.stm
    This is not to minimize the suffering of women whose reproductive choices were effectively made for them by overzealous healthcare workers.

    This is also not really relevant to the Mexican decision. What the judges voted to uphold is an outright ban on a procedure women WANT! It is wholesale removal of virtually all reproductive choices for millions of women.

    I lived in a country where abortion was (and still is) illegal, where poverty and extreme gender inequity leaves the majority of the population in a spiral of misery and where complications of back-street abortions is still a top leading cause of maternal death (another indicator that is disgracefully high). This is what Mexico’s judges have just voted to maintain.

  9. Crommunist says


    Wow. “Then Juarez was given a lawyer, Maria Guadalupe Cruces Luna, who she says told her: “It’s right that they punish you because you are responsible and you’ll end your days in prison because you’re a murderer.””


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