What if I told you that this past Friday, March 16th, Mexico City ushered in a new day, as two gay men became the first to marry under a brand new local law recognizing civil unions for homosexual couples? Don't answer. Now imagine that the municipal assembly and mayor of the city are also preparing to pass laws legalizing abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. Keep silent. What if I remind you that Mexico is 90 percent Catholic? Okay, now scream. Mexico City is bypassing many American states in its ability to de-magnetize the most polarizing of socio-cultural issues.
"No church, no religion can impose its vision of the world in this city," said Assembly leader Victor Hugo Cirigo, a member of the ruling leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution. Words we long to hear from many of our U.S. representatives, state and city leaders are heard around the world as Mexico City sprints to the front of the pack.
While the bill has not passed yet, it seems fated for success with a progressive majority in the city government. Mexico City would then become the first region in Mexico to legalize abortion without restriction in the first three months of pregnancy. Current laws in the city allow abortion only when the mother's life is endangered. Abortion is permitted in the rest of the country only in cases of rape. The first legal abortions under this new law could happen later this year.
As you can imagine, Catholic Church leaders are calling this a diabolical scenario. According to a Washington Post article, The Catholic Church in Mexico "leads the world's second-biggest Catholic population after Brazil." And they are not taking this lying down, invoking Hitler's name when talking of both the gay marriage and abortion measures.
"A Catholic who votes for one of these (politicians) has a huge lack of values," said Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese, the world's largest.
While Catholic leaders promise a mass protest they'll take to the streets and the courts, these outbursts seem to be doing very little to quash the revolution that is rocking Mexico City. Gay couples are tying the knot in outdoor ceremonies and abortion rights advocates are standing up for Mexican women who have had to "use clandestine clinics, with the poorest relying on back-street practitioners…with often deadly results."
While abortion has been legal in Mexico if a woman has been raped, poor women have experienced a very different reality; often intimidated and threatened not to seek an abortion, by the very health workers and prosecutors from which they should be receiving support. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented a case of a thirteen-year old girl who had been raped and impregnated by a family member and then forced by a social worker to watch medically inaccurate anti-abortion propaganda videos. HRW's report on rape victims who are denied legal abortions in Mexico weaves the horrific facts together with unsurprising results. Many rape victims either end up resorting to dangerous back-alley abortions or being forced by the very authorities that should be protecting them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
In her recent post about abortion in Mexico, Marcy Bloom wrote "Mexican women risk their lives and health to obtain abortions." Mexico City's brave step forward will save women's lives, but the progressive members that make up Mexico City's government must take the necessary steps to educate the system that is set up to help women.
It's truly amazing to me that Mexico City has brought together not just the political ideologues who hold strong, progressive values but politicians who are willing to fight for that value system. As we enter into yet another contentious campaign season in this country, we're forced to listen to any one of the "check-your-spine-at-the-door" politicians constantly. While many position themselves as "pro-choice" or "pro-life", "pro-gay marriage" or "anti-gay marriage", when it comes time to actually implement the policies that help frame our personal lives as United States citizens, few can be counted on to do what the legislators in Mexico City are doing. That is, our politicians are generally not willing to stand up to what has been called the "Christofascist" leadership, by bucking their vision of a world led by fundamentalist Judeo-Christian principles. Mexico City's leaders are standing up to the bullying of a Church that has denied civil rights to a large part of its population for too long. Safe and legal abortion is more than just a political pep phrase for the city's politicians; it is a basic human right for Mexican women. The world will be watching.