Abortion has been a simmering issue in Mexico ever since a quest
for broader women's rights began butting up against a traditionally
But earlier this year when a 14-year-old rape victim, Paulina del
Carmen, was denied the abortion she thought she had a right to in
Mexicali, she - and then her son - put human faces on the theme. The
simmer heated up to a boil.
People were already questioning the direction Mexican society
would take following the July 2 election of social conservative
Vicente Fox. Now, abortion has emerged as a surprise summer litmus
test of where the new government stands on women's rights.
With the Paulina case serving as a backdrop, the legislature of
the state of Guanajuato voted earlier this month to amend state law
to criminalize abortion, even in the case of rape. Under Mexican
law, states have exempted cases of rape and danger to a mother's
life from a prevailing abortion ban.
The Aug. 3 vote in Guanajuato, a west-central state known for
shoemaking and colonial churches, might not have caused such a
national uproar if it weren't for two salient points. Guanajuato is
where president-elect Mr. Fox served as governor in the 1990s. And
it was legislators from Fox's center-right, Catholic-leaning
National Action Party (PAN), who pushed for the new law.
Some of Fox's opponents are warning that Guanajuato may set a
precedent for what the president-elect, a strong abortion foe, has
in mind for the whole country. The PAN, considered an opposition
party until Fox's July victory, has traditionally been an ally of
the Roman Catholic Church. So now with the church making its support
of the Guanajuato initiative very public, Fox's detractors are
hoisting the case as the first sign of an attack on the secular
Some observers say the abortion controversy has taken such a hold
on the country because Mexicans see it as a way to answer the
question of whether Fox's election portends a conservative turn for
Mexico. "This [abortion controversy] has become something of a
thermometer," says Martha Prez, a member of Mexico City's Free Vote
Defense Council. "People see it helping determine if Fox's victory
was a vote for change, or a vote for conservatism."
Mexicans not cut from Fox's ideological cloth, but who voted for
him hoping for change, "may now be regretting they did so," says Jos
Luis Barbosa, leader of the center-left Party of the Democratic
Revolution (PRD) in Guanajuato.
The PRD's national president, Amalia Garca, says the Guanajuato
vote reflects how the PAN has traditionally infringed on women's
rights. Using the controversy to make its own point, the PRD
government of Mexico City last week proposed several amendments to
city laws to widen abortion rights.
In the heat of the controversy, Fox called the Guanajuato vote
"strictly a local matter" and insisted that a similar initiative at
the national level would not be coming from his government.
Questioned during a Thursday visit in So Paulo, Brazil, Fox assured
the press: "I don't agree with what happened in Guanajuato. My
position is very different."
But women's-rights activists are suspicious, especially since the
Fox transition team on public health included until recently the
secretary of health for Baja California - the state where
authorities denied rape-victim Paulina the abortion that state law
supposedly guaranteed her. …