In Sonora, Mexico, a 13 year old, who became pregnant after being raped by a family acquaintance, has been denied an abortion. Abortion is illegal in Sonora; however, there is, or should be, an exception in cases of rape. Federal health regulations introduced earlier this year should guarantee rape victims unrestricted access to safe abortion services – regardless of where they live and whether the crime was reported or not. What makes this case all the more galling is the fact that, despite the girl bravely reporting the rape to authorities, the judge in the case downgraded the crime to a charge of ‘sexual coercion’; therefore, the state health department refuses to authorize an abortion, because, according to the court, no rape took place. The court’s decision not only negates the victim’s experience and denies her justice, but also effectively blocks her access to safe abortion.
At now 12 weeks pregnant, the only option for the victim is to travel to Mexico City for an abortion. In 2008, Mexico City changed their state law to allow women in their first trimester unobstructed access to abortion services. However, this change prompted other states, such as Sonora, to immediately tighten restrictions on abortion. To have to travel for an abortion only further traumatises a young girl who has already been through the ordeal of rape and a dismissive court system.
Rape and sexual assault is a significant and deeply disturbing problem in South America: 1 in 5 women in the region will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 15. In Mexico specifically, the problem is just as widespread, with 1 in 4 girls being sexually assaulted before the age of 18. This shocking example of rape culture, combined with strict abortion laws, places an appalling double burden on girls and women who become pregnant as a result of rape in these countries. They firstly suffer at the hands of an abuser and then are made to suffer yet again at the hands of a system that cruelly disregards their reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Women and girls who obtain an abortion are criminalised and are given above and beyond the punishment of their attackers – if their attackers are convicted at all. For example, in El Salvador, where abortion is banned in all circumstances, women face a jail term of 2 to 8 years for obtaining a termination – which parliamentarians are proposing to increase to 50 years; the sentence for rape, however, is a mere 6 – 10 years.
Restrictive abortion laws in South America, and around the world, place women and girls in a precarious and unsafe position – physically, emotionally and legally. These laws are disgraceful, immoral and completely ignore the human rights of women.
Jessica East, AR Executive Committee Member