Mexico City, Mexico – In the midst of the global pandemic crisis, Maria Muñoz, a 26-year-old journalist, found herself with an unwanted pregnancy in Mexico City. Fearing to hire COVID-19 in a hospital or clinic, she decided to have an abortion at home, with assistance through the popular WhatsApp messaging service.
A growing number of women in Mexico are turning to online support networks advising them on how to use misoprostol, an over-the-counter ulcer medication, for abortion.
Maria met this network through a friend, got in touch with them and joined a WhatsApp group alongside psychologists, and what they call “abortion companions”. They consulted her frequently to see how she was feeling, sent her infographics on where to get misoprostol, how to take the pills, what to eat beforehand, and sent her reminders to follow the proper administration schedule.
While Muñoz lives in Mexico City, one of two places in Mexico where abortion is legal until the twelfth week of pregnancy, he still opted for the home support option. “I decided to do it at home because you often go to the clinic and there are anti-right groups attacking you,” he told Al Jazeera. COVID-19, affordability, and the ability to have your partner by your side also contributed to your decision.
After her abortion, she joined a group of WhatsApp women all over Mexico who had gone through the process and wanted to share their experiences. “It really affected me to hear women aborting where it was not legal and having to suffer a double fear: the fear of abortion and also the fear of being imprisoned for abortion when they are in such a vulnerable time,” she added Muñoz.
In 30 Mexican states, women’s options for abortion are very limited. Legal termination of pregnancy is only allowed in certain circumstances, including rape or health factors that endanger a woman’s life. Abortion was legalized in Oaxaca in 2019, but very few clinics provide it as a service, making women’s access there basically non-existent.
The Morras Help Morras reproductive justice collective, which translates as Girls Help Girls, has helped women across Mexico terminate their pregnancies. The group receives an average of nine to ten daily requests from women interested in terminating their unwanted pregnancy at home, said Sofia, the organization’s co-director, who did not want to share her last name as it could have legal repercussions. . They have tens of thousands of followers on social media that help them reach women across the country.
Sofia begins her workday on a computer screen full of open social media windows; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp.
A young woman writes to him on Facebook: “I am 15 years old, I know I am very young. I don’t know if I’m pregnant. I really don’t want to be, because I have a lot of family problems. ” Sofia responded softly and explained that the first step is to do a pregnancy test at home. She reassures her, “Relax, we’re here for you.”
Sofia has received training that qualifies her to be an abortion partner. She is not a medical professional and has recommended that those who end their pregnancy talk to gynecologists or doctors who are part of their network, if they have any complications.
“Clandestine is not synonymous with dangerous. Clandestine means [aborting] in an illegal way, but from the underground we provide objective scientific information, “Sofia told Al Jazeera.” Women must have access to safe abortions because it’s their right, it’s a matter of autonomy. “
Since COVID-19 home refuge orders were declared in Mexico on March 23, 2020, reproductive justice advocates have documented the growing difficulties women have had in obtaining abortions. Prior to the pandemic, the NGO Fondo Maria provided financial assistance to dozens of women each year to help them travel to Mexico City, where they could have free and legal abortions.
According to government statistics, 71,418 women across Mexico had abortions in Mexico City between 2007 and 2020. During the peak of the pandemic, only five of the city’s 13 abortion clinics remained open.
“Access to abortion was already a challenge and the pandemic has intensified the difficulties,” said Sofia Garduño, a defender of the Fondo Maria. Although the Mexico City government declared abortion an essential service, there was little clarity about which clinics were open and access to contraceptives was declining as women feared leaving home, as COVID cases they were shooting through the huge metropolis.
Garduño also highlighted the importance of groups accompanying women through social media who want to terminate their pregnancies during the pandemic. “Many women are at home with their whole family and can’t just make a 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 the high levels of unemployment and the economic crisis that accompanied the pandemic, as well as rising levels of domestic violence, have led many women to seek abortions over the past year.
The legal battle
Last December, after a long battle fought by feminist activists, Argentina decriminalized abortion for up to 14 weeks. This energized the pro-selection movement “Marea Verde” or Green Wave throughout Latin America. In Mexico, women wearing bright green bandanas took to the streets demanding their government do the same.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, who gives daily press conferences, has avoided answering questions about abortion. When asked after the Argentine vote whether he would decriminalize abortion, he suggested an informal referendum. “For very controversial decisions, I have always thought that it is best to consult the population and not impose anything on them,” he said. “In this case, women can decide freely.”
– Morras Help Morras (@helpmorras) March 31, 2021
The nonprofit Group for Information on Reproduction and Choice (GIRE) has been fighting 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 on their bodies. It is not a decision that must be decided by a popular vote “, said Rebeca Ramos, the director of GIRE.
“The debate over legalization is now in the field of state governments,” Ramos told Al Jazeera.
Mexico City has ordered that women be able to have an abortion in the event of rape for up to twenty weeks, while under normal circumstances it is allowed for up to 12 weeks.
There are three cases that the Supreme Court must decide to challenge the state laws of Sinaloa and Coahuila that state 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 administer abortions in cases when women’s lives are at risk. In July 2020, Mexico’s highest court ruled against a proposal to legalize abortion in the state of Veracruz.
– Fons MARIA (@FondoMARIAmx) May 4, 2021
In the states of Puebla and Quintana Roo, activists have seized the buildings of the state congress in the hope of advancing their agenda for reproductive rights. On Saturday, the Puebla State Parliament will convene and pro-election activists will push the debate on legal termination of pregnancy. A 94-day stay in the state of Quintana Roo helped force abortion on the agenda back in March. Lawmakers voted against decriminalization.
Activists have said the vote itself is a victory and have challenged the decision with lawsuits, called amparos.
As long as abortion is illegal for most Mexican women, groups like Morras Help Morras, Fondo Maria and others say they will continue to fill the gap and provide women with information on how to have an abortion safely at home.
You can follow Andalusia K Soloff on Twitter and Instagram at @andalalucha