We are not alone: ​​Mexican women fight together for abortion

OAXACA, Mexico (HPD) — The social struggle runs through Oaxaca like a collective pulse that shouts “here we are not going to settle.”

Three years after becoming the second state in Mexico to decriminalize abortion, feminist groups and human, sexual and reproductive rights organizations are still fighting so that every woman who wishes to interrupt her pregnancy can do so in a dignified, safe and free manner.

Eliminating it as a crime in the local Penal Code in 2019 and reforming the State Health Law in 2021 has not been enough to guarantee its practice in the public sector. The legal changes do not lead to empathy among all medical personnel nor do they break the stigmas that have been embedded in part of the social imaginary for decades.

Faced with this panorama, Oaxacan women have learned to create accompaniment networks as they move towards a future where abortion is truly accessible to all. These are some of their voices. Several spoke to The Associated Press, withholding details of their identity so as not to put their safety at risk.

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Viridiana Bautista, 36 years old, activist in The Counselors

The interest for me to get involved in the issue of abortion arose from a personal experience: almost 13 years ago I went through an interruption. I had a curettage. They broke my uterus. I was about to lose my life. They had to sew me up where they had torn me.

I had been a catechist, so I was permeated by a religious vision. At first it caused me conflict, but I tried to handle it. After a few years I began to get to know various feminist spaces. I began to get involved with another vision and said “this is very important because, how many women do not weigh the issue of guilt?”.

Some group of women (which they call collectives) invited me to participate because the decriminalization proposal was coming. At each meeting, we all cooperated.

When decriminalization occurs we could not believe it. It was very exciting. It was the result of the work of many colleagues: those who convinced the deputies to bring the proposal, who made the positioning, who worked on social networks and who went out to protest.

Now the challenge is to achieve social decriminalization and make abortion real, because at that time it was “how cool” (how good) and “we did it”, but three years later the challenges are impressive.

We are permeated by sexist, misogynistic practices and violence against women. There are many barriers that we are facing, both organizations and collectives, activists and rights defenders to make this a reality, so that abortion is not just a historical thing.

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Nay Aquino, 41 years old

The first time I terminated a pregnancy I didn’t want to. I was in a very dependent relationship. Now I see it as psychological violence. I did not want. It was a decision made by someone else. He saw everything that he had to do: find the money, pay for a clinic, a doctor and everything. Because of the trauma I don’t remember the dates well. I think he would have been between 19 and 20 years old.

I remember being in the cold of the operating room, alone with the gynecologist and the movement of throwing myself like in a butcher shop, like they throw a piece of meat on the grill and a woman tells me “calm down”, as if to let me know that she is there. When I wake up I’m in the room and I don’t know anything. I don’t see the doctor again, they don’t tell me what’s going to happen. I see the serums and I hear “you can go now”, but since the room was paid for until the next day, I stayed to sleep. A friend was with me and stayed all night. She told me “we have to go”. I changed, I grabbed my backpack and I went to the university to take an exam.

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Libya Valdez, 36 years old, lawyer in Ixmucane A.C.

Our intention was to work with law students because we were not trained at the university from the perspective of human rights and gender or from the perspective of indigenous communities.

We invite several allies, not just lawyers. We went towards feminism so they could intertwine. Three or four years ago, many young women believed that feminism was about “feminazis” and we wanted them to understand that it is a current that allows us to analyze the realities and context of women.

Thus we were arriving towards sexual and reproductive rights and the right to decide. We discussed whether at any time they had had to decide and it was surprising to hear them say “I decided at some point” or “we accompanied another partner who lived alone.”

Very close friendships were created in that group. It was a safe space to talk. It reached such a degree that a collective was created inside. They were encouraged to work together and looked for a name in Zapotec that means “women who do work themselves.”

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Metztli Lima, 29 years old, companion in The Camp

We call ourselves La Campamenta because it is something from which we have been able to take agency: appropriating the language and changing it. I see this around the normalization of speaking in feminine. I see that more and more compas (comrades) talk about collectives and not collectives.

This bothers a lot. They have told us “ladies, learn to write well”. This shows how the band (people) are more concerned with a lyric than the content of the message.

Our commitment is to share knowledge and that there are informed abortions. We put the perspective that not only women abort; also trans men, non-binary, intersex people, that is, there is a whole possibility of identities. What happens, for example, if a non-binary person is not in this legal framework and arrives at the health center and is told “you are not a woman, you are a binary person; you are a trans man, you do not enter”? They have told us of cases that have happened to them.

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Indigenous woman and activist of almost 70 years (asterisk)

This is an indigenous community of about 15,000 inhabitants. What is needed here is information, to raise awareness. Before, women were told that if they interrupted their pregnancy, when they died they would eat that product. They were afraid, but some did dare to interrupt.

Twenty-odd years ago I was a housewife like everyone else, obedient and all that. A sister invited me to a workshop on indigenous law. After that I began to accompany people on agrarian law. I didn’t have much information, but I went to the Public Ministry as an interpreter.

One day a colleague told me “hey, there is a workshop on sexual and reproductive rights” and I told her “oh, no, it scares me”. Just the word “sexual”, imagine. I was also with a different mentality, but I went and I liked it. At first I didn’t understand very well, but I said “I have to learn”.

In 2003 I started training. We did a march on women’s rights. From there I began to give workshops, talks with young people, information fairs. I am already an elderly person, but I continue to participate.

In the talks at the beginning we did not mention the word “abortion”. We said “how do you get your period if you think you are pregnant?”.

I cannot say that I am a companion, I only say that I give information, what the law says, because we cannot risk it. Since I am in an indigenous community, people locate me, they know where I live.

When a woman tells me “I feel relieved” I am very pleased, but I was even more pleased when a girl told me “it was good that I heard you on the radio, I got out of my problem and changed my life”. I funneled that girl into a shelter. They supported her legally, psychologically. And another woman I supported because she didn’t know how to speak Spanish well told me “no one wants to accompany me because I am a woman who goes barefoot and I can’t even wear a flip-flop because my feet are used to walking without shoes”.

(asterisk) The woman spoke to the HPD on condition of anonymity and asking not to reveal her name or age so as not to risk her safety.

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Karen Castellanos, 26 years old, companion in Always alive y ddeser

We have meetings with the health sector. They tell us “only send women with cause or an emergency situation”. So from there they put a stop to them. We ask why and they say “we have a lot of work, more important things; we have to attend to a lot of people and for us it is more pressure”.

There have been girls who tell me “I went to ask for the service and they told me why I was doing that, that they didn’t do it there”. They make them victims because they judge them, they have a prejudice against them, they scare them. They even feel so bad that they no longer want to go back to the hospital. And I tell them “if you want, I’ll go with you”. And they tell me “no, I don’t want to go there”. And that’s when we decided to give them another accompaniment. They get the medication and are provided with support for a safe abortion.

We receive about 50 or 60 cases a month. There are also girls who ask and then no longer answer. I have always wondered why. I don’t know if anyone saw them or what.

Once a girl told me that she didn’t know what decision to make due to social pressure. I suddenly talk to them. Our idea is not to promote abortion, but the right to decide. And if a woman tells me “I feel very good and I earn well and I want to continue a pregnancy”, we are happy that they are loving and chosen motherhoods.

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Yanet Jennings, 38 years old, gynecologist in private clinic

I have lost more and more fear of coming out of the closet and saying “I am completely in favor of the right to decide”.

I chose a career in which I dedicate myself to women’s health without putting my moral, legal and religious issues, but it seems that most of my colleagues do not think that way, but what they think on a personal level is more important than the woman’s needs.

Others have no objection, but see the outage as an opportunity to overcharge. The number one reason why women interrupt is economic, so it is an abuse of power. It’s the patriarchy all over again. That is to say “yes, I am going to help you, but my knowledge is going to cost you”.

For me the companions have an impressive value. They are the ones who are on the street, the ones who have more feminism and love of others to know the circumstances experienced by women who want to interrupt and have the courage to accompany them.

A very personal idea of ​​why women abort is that it is a very great act of love towards herself and towards her life projects, towards her body, because it is not the ideal time to conceive.

How many times do we ask “what scares you, what worries you about having an abortion”? I have several answers to this because I’ve been doing it for years, but it’s something we could also train on. I honor and appreciate that these women allow me to hear their stories.

Some time a lady about 38 years old came. She was from a remote community. She came with her oldest daughter, who had a baby. She went to consult, her daughter stayed outside and she told me “doctor, I’m pregnant and I need an abortion. I am a widow, but in my town they kill me if they know that I profaned my husband’s name. They told me that you can help me.” And I say “and we can’t tell your daughter?”. She told me no, so I told her “come on, we’ll solve it right here, we’re going to tell your daughter that you have a cyst or something else”.

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The Associated Press’ religious news coverage is supported through a partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The HPD is solely responsible for all content.

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