Abortion Foes in Mexico Borrow Tactics From US Allies

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Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: Our next story is about a topic that's as controversial in Mexico as it is here, abortion. First-trimester abortions were decriminalized in Mexico City about six years ago. In response, anti-abortion activists launched a counter-offensive across the rest of the country. Since then, half of Mexico's states have passed new constitutional amendments banning abortion. Kathryn Joyce is the author of "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption." She traveled to Mexico City to examine the abortion debate there, and she found activists heavily influenced by strategies used here, north of the border.

Kathryn Joyce: There's a real sense of a culture war that is shaping up. There is Mexico's own so-called Rosary Belt, where there is a lot of activism against comprehensive sex ed in schools, promotion of condoms for youth, and also, notably, what I looked at the most was the wholesale export of the crisis pregnancy center model from the US to Mexico, where there are now 40 CPCs, crisis pregnancy centers, that have sprung up in recent years.

Schachter: Now those CPCs, crisis pregnancy centers, are a place where a woman can get a free pregnancy test. Some of these women who go to these centers would think they were learning about options, including abortion, but instead they are counseled to continue the pregnancy, and that's what we're talking about cropping up in Mexico City. How prominent are these centers? And explain a little bit how they work.

Joyce: In the US the CPCs have been around for decades, and a lot of times, they're advertised in a vague way–if you're pregnant we can help–or just the offers of free pregnancy tests, like you mentioned. Then when women come in, often instead what they encounter is a hard sell against abortion. Oftentimes they are made to watch graphic anti-abortion videos. At times in some CPCs there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that crisis pregnancy centers are giving women medical misinformation about the results of having an abortion, telling them that abortion will lead to breast cancer, to severe depression, or worse. So there's been a history of questionable practices associated with the CPCs here in the US, and in Mexico we're seeing some of the same things. Women go in and they're being shown in some cases exactly the same video. They are being shown a subtitled version of The Silent Scream. They are being given literature that's in Spanish but has been printed here in the US. One of the pamphlets I found was printed in Cincinnati, Ohio. And in some cases they are being given the same sorts of medical misinformation, threatening them that if they go forward with an abortion they are going to end up with suicidal depression, or cancer, or worse.

Schachter: And did you find that it's the same groups from America who are now in Mexico City?

Joyce: In some cases it is. When I was reporting there I worked with a translator who went into one of these crisis pregnancy centers herself, and we found that crisis pregnancy center listed on the website of Heartbeat International, which is a network of crisis pregnancy centers that was started here in the United States. They represent about 1,000 networked CPCs here and about 1,800 worldwide, including many of the ones in Mexico.

Schachter: And there's a sort of tragic-comic story about your translator, Katia, when she went into that center.

Joyce: Absolutely. One of the things that happens in Mexico that doesn't tend to happen as much in the US is that women are actually on a routine basis getting false diagnoses of either how far along they are in pregnancy or in some cases being falsely told that they are pregnant when they are not. That is what happened to my translator. I think a little more common is for women who are early on in pregnancy being shown ultrasound images of pregnancies that are far more developed than they could possibly be carrying. But there is just a startling amount of misinformation that's being given out through these CPCs.

Schachter: Now, Mexico City, right, is the only place in the country that allows abortions. That happened six years ago. Is the idea catching on anywhere else? When places outside Mexico City look at this debate, how does it resonate?

Joyce: In Mexico I think the fight is still pretty fierce. In fact, a lot of women have actually been arrested and some have been jailed for having abortions in states where it is not legal. Across the region in Latin America, there has started to be a little bit of movement. In the past year I think a lot of people were paying attention to a case in El Salvador where a woman, Beatriz, was denied a life-saving abortion for many months before the government finally relented and allowed her to have a C-section delivery. But the only other country that has passed a new abortion rights law in the recent years is Uruguay. There's been a lot of pushback including from US conservatives who have been consulting with anti-abortion groups there in the country, but so far they seem to be sticking with it.

Schachter: Investigative journalist Kathryn Joyce. Her new piece in "The Nation" magazine is called "Mexico's Abortion Wars, American-Style." It was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute. Kathryn, thank you so much.

Joyce: Thank you so much for having me.