Mexico City, Mexico – In the midst of the global pandemic crisis, Maria Muñoz, a 26-year-old journalist, found herself facing an unwanted pregnancy in Mexico City. Fearful of contracting COVID-19 in a hospital or clinic, she decided to have an abortion at home, with assistance via the popular messaging service, WhatsApp.
A growing number of women in Mexico are turning to online support networks for advice on how to use the over-the-counter ulcer drug misoprostol for abortions.
Maria discovered this network through a friend, contacted them, and was added to a WhatsApp group alongside psychologists and what they call “abortion attendants”. They frequently checked her to see how she was feeling, sent her infographics on where to get misoprostol, how to take the pills, what she should eat ahead of time, and sent her reminders to ask when. ” it follows the appropriate administration schedule.
While Muñoz lives in Mexico City, one of two places in Mexico where abortion is legal until the 12th week of pregnancy, she still opted for the option of online home support. “I decided to do it at home because you often go to the clinic and there are anti-right groups attacking you,” she told Al Jazeera. COVID-19, affordability and the ability to have your partner by your side also contributed to his decision.
After her abortion, she was added to a group of WhatsApp women across Mexico who had gone through the process and wanted to share their experiences. “It really affected me to listen to women who have abortions where it was not legal and they must have suffered from a double fear – the fear of having an abortion and also the fear of being incarcerated for abortion then. that they are in such a vulnerable moment, ”added Muñoz.
In 30 Mexican states, women’s options for abortion are very limited. Legal termination of pregnancy is only permitted in certain circumstances, including rape or life-threatening health factors. Abortion was legalized in Oaxaca in 2019, but very few clinics provide it as a service, making access for women virtually non-existent.
The reproductive justice collective Morras Help Morras, which translates to Girls Help Girls, has helped women across Mexico terminate their pregnancies. The group receives an average of nine to ten requests per day from women interested in terminating their unwanted pregnancies at home, said Sofia, the co-director of the organization, who was unwilling to share her last name as she might cope. to legal repercussions. They have tens of thousands of social media followers that help them reach women across the country.
Sofia starts her working day on a computer screen full of open social media windows; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp.
A young woman wrote to her on Facebook: “I’m 15, I know I’m very young. I don’t know if I am pregnant. I really don’t want to be, because I have so many family issues. Sofia responded kindly and explained that the first step is to take a home pregnancy test. She reassures her: “Relax, we are here for you.”
Sofia has received training that qualifies her to be an abortion companion. She is not a healthcare professional and has recommended that those terminating their pregnancy speak to gynecologists or doctors in their network if they have any complications.
“Clandestine is not synonymous with dangerous. Clandestine means [aborting] illegally, but from underground, we provide objective and scientific information, ”Sofia told Al Jazeera. “Women must have access to safe abortions because it is their right, it is a question of autonomy.”
Since shelter-at-home orders for COVID-19 were declared in Mexico on March 23, 2020, reproductive justice advocates have documented the growing difficulties women face in obtaining abortions. Before the pandemic, the NGO Fondo Maria provided economic assistance each year to dozens of women to help them get to Mexico City where they could have free and legal abortions.
According to government statistics, 71,418 women from across Mexico aborted in Mexico City between 2007 and 2020. At the height of the pandemic, only five of the city’s 13 abortion clinics remained open.
“Access to abortion was already a challenge and the pandemic intensified the difficulties,” said Sofia Garduño, a lawyer for Fondo Maria. While the government of Mexico City declared abortion an essential service, there was little clarity on which clinics were open and access to contraceptives declined as women feared leaving home as COVID cases mounted. spire in the huge metropolis.
Garduño also stressed the importance of groups that support women through social networks who wish to terminate their pregnancy during the pandemic. “Many women find themselves at home with their entire families and they can’t just make a phone call to get the information they need. That’s why we started communicating with them through more discreet methods through social media, ”Garduño told Al Jazeera.
Garduño believes that high unemployment rates and the economic crisis that accompanied the pandemic, as well as increased levels of domestic violence have led many women to have abortions over the past year.
The legal battle
Last December, following a long battle led by feminist activists, Argentina decriminalized abortion for up to 14 weeks. This galvanized the pro-choice “Marea Verde” or Green Wave movement across Latin America. In Mexico, women wearing bright green bandanas have taken to the streets to ask their government to do the same.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who holds daily press conferences, has avoided answering questions about abortion. When asked after Argentina’s vote if he was going to decriminalize abortion, he suggested an informal referendum. “For very controversial decisions, I have always thought that it was better to consult the population and not impose anything on them,” he said. “In this case, women can decide freely.”
– Morras helps Morras (@helpmorras) March 31, 2021
The nonprofit Group for Information on Reproduction and Choice (GIRE) has fought for 29 years to legalize abortion in Mexico and does not support a public referendum. “We are talking about human rights, and women have to decide about their bodies. This is not a decision that should be decided by popular vote, ”said Rebeca Ramos, director of IWRM.
“The legalization debate is now a matter for state governments,” Ramos told Al Jazeera.
Mexico City has demanded that women can now have abortions in cases of rape up to week 20, when under normal circumstances this is allowed for up to 12 weeks.
The Supreme Court must decide three cases challenging the laws of the states of Sinaloa and Coahuila which stipulate that life begins at the time of conception, as well as a challenge to a health law that would prohibit medical professionals from refusing to d ‘administer abortions in cases. when women’s lives are in danger. In July 2020, Mexico’s highest court ruled against a proposal to legalize abortion in the state of Veracruz.
No empire can against us 😎 let’s celebrate #MayTheFourth take advantage of our autonomy 💚💜 Let’s resist together, the MARIA Fund and the force are with you 💪 # MayThe4thBeWithYou pic.twitter.com/sMWvF32VPi
– MARIA Fund (@FondoMARIAmx) May 4, 2021
In the states of Puebla and Quintana Roo, activists have taken control of state congress buildings in hopes of advancing their reproductive rights agenda. On Saturday, the Puebla state parliament will meet and pro-choice activists will push for the legal termination of pregnancy to be debated. A 94-day sit-in in the state of Quintana Roo helped push abortion onto the agenda in March. Lawmakers voted against decriminalization.
Campaigners said the vote itself was a victory and challenged the decision through legal remedies, known as amparos.
As long as abortion remains illegal for most Mexican women, groups like Morras Help Morras, Fondo Maria and others say they will continue to fill the void and provide women with information on how to have an abortion. safe at home.
You can follow Andalusia K Soloff on Twitter and Instagram at @andalalucha