The Abortion Debate in a Mexican Online Forum: Globalization, Religion, and Politics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The globalization of information and communications has shaped and influenced the abortion debate in Mexico. In recent years, abortion has risen on the Mexican public agenda and policymakers have seriously considered and implemented legal reforms liberating abortion laws. In March 2006, at the height of a presidential campaign, El Universal online hosted an online forum asking readers what they would ask presidential candidates about abortion. Two investigators analyzed a sample of 245 comments. Of these, 40% were pro-choice, 30% anti-abortion, 12% mixed opinion, and 18% unknown opinion. Arguments by pro-choice readers were that legal abortion is a hallmark of modern secular society and can prevent maternal mortality and unwanted children, whereas anti-abortion comments equated abortion to murder. Readers on both sides of the abortion debate supported increased education about and access to contraceptive methods, and those that opposed abortion did not cite religious arguments in justifying their positions. This online forum provides a case study of how the international abortion debate manifests itself among influential newspaper readers in Mexico, the second largest Catholic country in the world.

Keywords: Mexico, abortion, media, globalization, public opinion, Catholicism

INTRODUCTION

For the past half-century, the globalization of information and communication has had a profound effect on women's reproductive health and rights around the world. Even in the predominantly Catholic, socially conservative country of Mexico, global advocates of reproductive rights applaud recent legal reforms that have liberalized highly restrictive abortion laws (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida, 2005). International population policy debates have increasingly become articulated at the local level in Mexico, as the dramatic growth in communications technology in recent years has led to unprecedented information-sharing across geographic boundaries. In their 1999 article on the effects of globalization on the efforts to decriminalize abortion in Mexico, Bernal, Bissell, and Cortés described how the globalization of information and communications has shaped and strengthened the Mexican abortion rights movement, allowing women's health advocates to reach broader audiences, define consistent advocacy strategies, and exchange knowledge and information (Bernal, Bissell, & Córtes 1999). Furthermore, the emergence of the Internet in Mexico in the 1990s (Islas & Gutiérrez 2000) led to the creation of a public sphere in which like-minded advocates could strategize and exchange ideas, the general public could learn about the various arguments and counterarguments surrounding the abortion debate, and opposing parties could engage in open debate in fora such as message boards and chat rooms.

In this article, we analyze comments posted by readers of the Mexican newspaper El Universal in an April 2006 online forum aimed at eliciting participant opinions on what they would ask Mexican presidential candidates about abortion. Although there is an abundance of Mexican abortion opinion research that has been conducted in the past 20 years (Yam, Dries-Daffner, & Garcia, 2006), our rationale for analyzing abortion opinion expressed in an online forum lies in the potential for such computer-mediated discussion to draw participants of differing opinions into debate, exposing them to opposing viewpoints in a non-threatening environment. In her qualitative study of participants in Usenet and Yahoo message boards, Stromer-Galley (2003) suggests that the Internet enables public spaces for political conversation, noting that message board participants learned from exposure to diverse opinions, which allowed them "to use the Internet as a channel into public discussion forums they either do not seek or cannot find in their offline lives (Conclusion section, ¶6)." Much has been written about the potential of the Internet to foster and revitalize participatory democracy, engaging citizens to participate in political conversation on controversial issues such as abortion (Schneider, 1997). …