“Do you have a problem with blood?”
“No,” I lied.
“Great, I have a woman coming tomorrow at 10 am.”
That simple exchange left me a changed woman.
I was 22 years old and traveling alone in Mexico. I came to stay with a French-Canadian documentary filmmaker and his Mexican doctor wife, whom I’d met at a speaking event they held several months earlier at my university. We’ll call the doctor ‘Cepoori’.
Inspired by the message of Che Guevara in her youth, Cepoori decided in her teens that she wanted to become a doctor and help the disenfranchised. Living in a small town several hours outside of Mexico City, Cepoori is one of the only Mexican doctors who is willing to break the law to provide a clandestine abortion to any woman who needs one, regardless of whether she is able to pay.
Cepoori provides safe abortions out of her living room. She risks not only the loss of her medical license, but also incarceration. She traveled to the U.S. to learn the technique because it was not taught in her Mexican medical school.
At 10 a.m. sharp the next morning, a young woman arrived. Nineteen-year-old Elsa was smiling, but clearly nervous. I was introduced as a friend and assistant to the doctor, there to help and make Elsa more comfortable.
Cepoori’s name is known through the grapevine, but due to the illegal nature of what she does, she does not give any information over the phone. She explained to me that she has to make sure the woman is pregnant before she divulges any information because the woman may be an informant for the government or an anti-choice group.
“I will need to give you an examination,” Cepoori informs Elsa. She was wearing a flowing Mexican blouse and jeans, a far cry from a sterile doctor’s uniform.
Cepoori confirms that Elsa is indeed pregnant. The young woman and I were both surprised when Cepoori said the termination could begin almost immediately. But first, Cepoori wanted to have a conversation with the pregnant teen.
A complete departure from the businesslike abortions my friends and I have experienced in the United States, Cepoori sought to truly get to know Elsa. She wanted to understand who she was, what she liked, the details of her relationship with her family, and what her relationship with her partner was like. It came to light that her boyfriend was into drugs and talked down to her. Elsa lived with her controlling parents and gave them all of the money she earned by working hard sewing clothes.
Cepoori and I listened and explained to Elsa that she had options. We asked if her current situation was one into which she wanted to bring a baby. Ultimately, she decided it was not. It was only after Elsa made her choice that Cepoori excused herself to change into scrubs.
Controlled first by her parents and then her boyfriend, Elsa made her first autonomous decision that day.
Alone together for the first time, I could sense Elsa wondered who the heck I was and why I was there. I told her that not long before I found myself sitting on an exam table just like her. I assured her that the decision I’d made truly was the best one for me.
Two months later, before I left Mexico, I returned to Cepoori’s house for several days to help her husband with research for a documentary. I was fortunate to have the chance to cross paths with Elsa again when she came to Cepoori’s home for a follow up visit. As a result of her experience, she had became an avid promoter of the female condom in her community.
Every day, I am inspired by the bravery of Cepoori and Elsa. It is every woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body and fertility. Thankfully, for the hundreds of Mexican women who no longer have to put their lives at risk with dangerous abortion procedures, there is one courageous woman who is willing to put their needs first.
Written by Jenny Shapiro, IPPF/WHR’s Resource Mobilization Officer