Abortion has always been a controversial subject in Mexico, where the Roman Catholic Church vocally opposes the practice. But this new story reveals just far the laws extend: a pregnant 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her stepfather, has been denied an abortion by her home state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan peninsula, which allows abortion in cases of rape during the first 90 days of pregnancy. The girl, who is 17 and a half weeks pregnant, is almost a month past the limit. Her stepfather has been arrested.
The question is whether the girl was informed of her rights, or how far into her pregnancy she was when her mother reported the assault to the police last month. The state attorney general claims that the girl is in the hands of child protective services, and that both she and the fetus are doing well, but Quintana Roo state legislator Maria Hadad says that they are not revealing all of the details. Continuing the pregnancy, Hadad says, could cause serious mental and physical problems for the girl.
I’d tend to agree with Hadad. I obviously don’t have all of the details from this case, but imagine the distress that this girl has undergone: raped by her stepfather, she becomes pregnant (perhaps without real knowledge of what that means), is forced to continue the pregnancy, and then taken away from her mother. Certainly her stepfather should be taken out of the picture, and the rape trial should continue, but how can anyone argue that an abortion is not this girl’s right? She probably did not recognize the symptoms of the pregnancy until it was relatively far advanced, if she recognized them at all.
And her health is absolutely threatened by carrying and delivering a baby before her body is ready. There are strong correlations between maternal mortality and the age of the mother – girls between the age of 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die during childbirth. It doesn’t take much to realize that this girl’s life is at stake.
The debate over abortion in Mexico has been particularly heated since 2007, when Mexico City legalized abortion and set out to make them widely available. The decision was challenged and upheld by the country’s Supreme Court the next year, but many doctors also became “conscientious objectors,” refusing to perform abortions for moral reasons. And since the passage of that law, more than 17 Mexican states (of which Quintana Roo is one) have passed laws “protecting life beginning at conception.”
If nothing else, this case is a reminder of the extent to which reproductive rights can be threatened, and how crucial these reproductive rights can be. I only hope that Quintana Roo’s legislators come to their senses and realize that they are literally risking this girl’s life by refusing her an abortion, however late-term.
Photo from Mahalie's Flickr photostream.