Mexico Confronts Woman's Right to Abortion

A young Mexican woman denied an abortion after she was raped as a teenager will now receive compensation from the Mexican government. That news follows a study by Human Rights Watch asserting rape victims in Mexico are routinely denied access to safe abortions. James Hider reports from Mexico City about efforts to address abortion, a hot-button issue in the traditionally Catholic nation.

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In Mexico this week, the government there agreed to compensate a 19-year-old woman who was denied a legal abortion after she was raped at the age of 13. Abortion is illegal in Mexico, except in the case of rape, but often even those abortions are denied.

James Hider reports from Mexico City.

JAMES HIDER reporting:

Sandra Rodriquez is 34, a mentally handicapped woman whose mother says she has the development of a 10-year-old. One day three years ago she started complaining to her mother of feeling very ill.

Ms. MARTA MATTIAS (Sandra Rodriguez's Mother): (Through Translator) She was working at a house as a maid in the mornings. We knew these people from years ago. I never thought that would happen. I saw her throwing up several times and she told me she had a bad stomachache, so I took her to do blood and urine tests.

HIDER: What the doctor found shocked her mother, Marta Macias. She described the ordeal by telephone from Guanajuato in Central Mexico. Sandra was three months pregnant without even knowing it. Her mother asked her who had made her pregnant. That was when her daughter admitted she had been raped by her employer. Marta then went to a local health official to apply for a termination of the unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Mexico, except in the case of rape victims.

Ms. MACIAS: (Through Translator) She took our statements, mine and my daughter's. But she pointed at me with her finger and said to me, Senora, abortion is a crime. And we're going to keep an eye on your daughter.

HIDER: Faced with obstructive officials at every turn, Marta's daughter finally had her baby. Unable to support the child, she gave it up for adoption.

Ms. MACIAS: (Through Translator): My daughter didn't want the baby since the very beginning, when she realized it was the result of that rape. I'm not in the economic position to support a child.

HIDER: According to Human Rights Watch, Sandra's case is far from unusual. The New York based group released a report this week accusing the authorities, in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, of blocking rape victims' access to legal abortions. Government estimates put the number of rape victims at around 120,000 a year. Human Rights Watch believes that number could be as high a million. And Marian Mollmann, who wrote the report, says the situation is even worse for those who become pregnant.

Ms. MARIAN MOLLMANN (Human Rights Watch): The women that I spoke to who had been forced to carry through unwanted pregnancies after rape obviously faced emotional problems. You know, emotional problems are quite common for rape victims. Their children also faced emotional problems. And often what we saw was that, in particular, adolescent rape victims would abandon their infants with their mothers. And these grandmothers would then be forced to take care of these children.

HIDER: The age of consent is just 12 years old in much of Mexico. In many Mexican states, incest is considered consensual sex under the law. So many young victims have trouble convincing skeptical officials they've actually been assaulted. But this week, the government agreed to compensate Paulina Ramirez who was raped by a heroin addict six years ago at the age of 13. Public healthcare officials convinced her and her mother to allow the baby to be born against their wishes.

The Washington based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights brought her case to the Mexican courts. The government says it now plans to enforce the laws allowing rape victims abortions. But the macho culture is deeply ingrained. Earlier this year, conservative President Vicente Fox jokingly referred to women as washing machines with two legs.

For NPR News, I'm James Hider in Mexico City.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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