08 March 2006

What Does Illegal Abortion Look Like?

Mexico's abortion laws, like those in almost all of Latin America, except Cuba, are only slightly more pro-choice than those now on the books in South Dakota, and the reality is even closer to the South Dakota model than the text of Mexico's laws would suggest.

The Law

In Mexico, only rape victims or women whose lives are at risk are allowed to obtain abortions. But such women have faced innumerable bureaucratic, legal and cultural obstacles when trying to exercise that right in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. . . . Teenagers raped by family members are not allowed to seek abortions — in most Mexican states, the law defines incest as consensual sex. In addition, 12 is the legal age for consensual sex in most of Mexico.

For example:

"[A] 16-year-old girl in the central state of Guanajuato who was repeatedly raped by her father. She begged authorities to allow her to have an abortion but was denied.

"I want to declare that I don't want to have the child that I am expecting," she said, according to court documents quoted in the report. "Because it is my father's, I will not be able to love it."

This is the norm in Latin America, with one exception.

Cuba is the only Latin American country allowing abortion on demand. Other nations in the region allow abortion only in cases of rape or when the woman's life is at risk.

(Abortion laws worldwide are summarized in this map from Wikipedia.)

Emergency contraception (a high dose contraceptive, which must be taken within several days of unprotected sex, and should not be confused with not to be confused with medical abortion drugs such as RU-486) is legal in Mexico, but a source of major political controversy there.

Extra-Legal Limitations On Abortion in Mexico

Both government pressure and resistance from legal health care providers, however, limits access to abortion even in cases where it is legal in Latin America. For example, a 13 year old girl was raped by a heroin addict in her home in Mexico.

[She] and her mother sought a legal abortion, but numerous Baja California state officials and public healthcare workers pressured her to carry her pregnancy to term.

Antiabortion activists visited Ramirez at the hospital, showing her pictures of aborted fetuses in a bid to persuade her to change her mind. The Baja California state attorney general drove her to see a priest who told her abortion was a sin.

A court battle in the Mexican courts brought her no relief. But, the Mexican government recently settled the case when it was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The settlement calls for the victim to be paid about $40,000 in legal and medical fees and reparations. The victim, who is now 19 and raising her son as a single mother, will also receive a government stipend for the child's education through high school.

In addition, Mexican federal and state officials agreed to take steps to ensure that prosecutors and healthcare workers comply with laws that guarantee rape victims' right to abortion. . . . [and the] Mexican government recognized that Baja state officials violated federal law.

Hurdles To Legal Abortions in Mexico

Even in the absence of this extra-legal pressure, the law itself imposes significant burdens on rape victims seeking abortions in Mexico which have a strong effect:

Women seeking abortions must first file a legal complaint against the rapist, then obtain a court order authorizing doctors to perform the procedure. In Mexico City, regulations require the rape victim to be photographed before and after the abortion, a requirement that women's groups call a deliberate attempt to humiliate. . . . Nevertheless, only 25 women sought legally sanctioned abortions in Mexico City last year. . . . The year before [a Women's group P.R.] campaign was launched, only five rape victims in the city of 9 million people sought legal abortions, she said.

Illegal Abortions In Mexico

Mexico has a population of about 106 million people compared to about 296 million, for the United States. In 2002, there were about 1,293,000 legal abortions (Table 93) in the United States (a figure which is about 15% lower than the absolute number in 1992). If the United States had the same abortion rate that it does, and the population of Mexico, it would have about 598,700 abortions per year.

Estimates of the annual number of illegal abortions [in Mexico] range from 600,000 to 1 million. . . . Federal health officials say at least 1,000 women die of medical complications from illegal abortions every year.

Deaths Connected With Pregnancies Compared In The U.S. and Mexico.

The number of deaths from medical complications from abortion according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is 0.6 per 100,000 abortions (i.e. 7 per year in the entire United States).

The Statistical Abstract of the United States (Table 94) reports that 59% take place prior to nine weeks of pregancy, 29% take place during the ninth to the twelve week of pregnancy, and 11% take place in the thirteenth week or later of a pregnancy. Abortions performed at 8 weeks gestation or earlier significantly safer than those performed later in a pregnancy.

Post-first trimester abortions pose the greatest risk to the patient. Late term abortions account for about 84% of deaths from complications of abortion, but only 11% of all abortions. The number of deaths per 100,000 abortions from complications of abortion in the United States at 21 weeks or more of pregnancy (8.9), which represent about 1% of abortions, is the same as the number of deaths per 100,000 live births from complication of live births (8.9) (Table 104). Abortions at 16-20 weeks, which represent about 4% of abortions, have a death rate of 3.4 per 100,000 abortions (about a third of the risk of a live birth). Abortions at 13-15 weeks, which represent about 6% of all abortions, have a death rate of 1.7 per 100,000 abortions (about a fifth of the risk of a live birth).

The risk of death from complications of abortion is far lower in the first trimester. At 11-12 weeks, a point at which about 10% of abortions are performed, the death rate is 0.4 per 100,000 abortions. At 9-10 weeks, a point at which about 19% of abortions are performed, the death rate is 0.2 per 100,000 abortions. And, at 8 weeks or less, at which 59% of abortions are performed, the death rate is 0.1 per 100,000 abortions (about 1% of the risk of a live birth). About 99% of first trimester surgical abortions (the data above exclude medication induced abortions with drugs like RU-486, which European experience shows has similar risk and whichis generally used in the first seven weeks of pregancy and a recent New England Journal of Medicine study examines the 4 deaths potentially linked to RU-486 in the U.S. which has been prescribed 460,000 times in the U.S. and are similar to eight other deaths that occurred in pregnancies that there not aborted, implying a risk of death similar to surgical abortions at the same stage of pregnancy) are performed using a procedure known as cutterage. The data show that the safest procedure in the second trimester is one called dialation and extraction, which produces about 60% fewer deaths than other methods.

An anti-abortion group put the number of deaths from complications of abortion at 23 in the 1992-1993 period (when the abortion rate was higher than it is now). The National Right To Life Committee puts the number of deaths from complications of abortion at 200 since Roe v. Wade was decided.

In the United States, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Table 104), there are about 700 infant deaths and 8.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

"It is estimated that up to 50% of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among known pregnancies, the rate of spontaneous abortion is approximately 10% and usually occurs between the 7th and 12th weeks of pregnancy." Source.

In Mexico, there are roughly 2,090 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.


There are actually fewer abortions per capita in the United States, where it is legal, than in Mexico, where it is illegal, and even using data suggested by anti-abortion groups, the death rate from medical complications from abortions in the United States is about 98% lower than in Mexico, where abortion is generally illegal. Using data offered by the medical establishment, the death rate from medical complications from abortions in the United States is about 99.94% lower than in Mexico. Either way, it is clear that the illegality of abortion in Mexico is a significant cause of death to women who seek abortions, while it is not very effective at preventing abortions.


Anonymous said...

Well, maybe if the next few states about to go the same path as S.D. were to know this maybe it could change something?? I doubt. This was so planned by anti-abortion people, just waiting for the right, literally, supreme court environment to be in place. I guess it will be clearly evident when our stats start to look like Mexico's.
Good info.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

More on the same topic at Anne Zook.

Anonymous said...

IT is a sad day when organized religion has so much power on the people that they let half the population suffer like this. Argentina is far worse then Mexico when it comes to roman catholic and abortion. I am deeply saddened at the way this sick form of christianity treats rape victims. They want women to carry a child from a rapist to term then when the child is here the poor woman and child are on there own! I have no respect for catholic religion nor any religion including muslim who oppresses women so badly! Most christian extremists have there way rapists and incest will never be prosecuted. Its called lets blame the woman and watch her suffer because the bible blames Eve for the fruit on the tree. Women have to stand up and fight against such lunatics.