About that whole "right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy" thing

Eighty-five percent of Mexico City's doctors have declared themselves "conscientious objectors" to a law guaranteeing women the right to have an abortion.

Published August 26, 2008 1:40PM (EDT)

Remember how back in April 2007 Mexico City passed a law legalizing abortion in the city for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy? According to an article in the New York Times, the fallout hasn't been exactly as planned. Sure, there's a lawsuit -- filed by the Mexican government and several antiabortion groups -- that's being deliberated by Mexico's Supreme Court this week. But the real challenge, the Times reports, is the doctors themselves.

Mexico City's law, while revolutionary in a predominantly Catholic country that has very restrictive laws on abortion, also has a large weakness: It allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions if they consider themselves to be conscientious objectors. So far, says the Times, 85 percent of Mexico City's gynecologists have declared themselves to be conscientious objectors. Yes, that's right: 85 percent. This is not such a big deal for wealthier women, who can turn to private doctors "willing to quietly end unwanted pregnancies." But for poor women who don't have such alternatives, this is a disastrous turn of events. The situation is so bad that the city had to hire four new doctors to help bridge the gap. (There are currently 35 doctors offering abortions in city medical facilities.) What's more, even when doctors agree to perform abortions, women report being intimidated and blocked by deliberately obstructive bureaucratic hurdles.

Luckily, there are people like Laura Garcia, one of 13 doctors at her hospital to offer abortions. She reports being "insulted by colleagues and chased down the street by abortion opponents." But having personally witnessed what can happen when an illegal abortion goes wrong, she has decided to continue to provide abortions.

"I am contributing to rescuing women's rights. In Mexico, women have always been marginalized," she told the Times. "I am a Catholic, but I don't think I'm going to hell. If I go, it will be for other reasons."

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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