January 17, 2003

Where are the pro-life activists now?

By Mariana Martinez

In the year 2000, Paulina, a 13 year old girl, was rapped by a drug addict who broke into her house to steal; she and her parents went to the authorities to report the crime, unfortunately she became pregnant as a result of this assault. Under Mexican law, Paulina had a right to have an abortion before the second trimester of her pregnancy, but Mexican authorities, aided by pro-life activists delayed the procedure and denied the medical attention she had a right to, putting their own belief system over the law.

Paulina is now supporting and bringing up her child alone.

The Baja California Peninsula Woman’s Network was conceived in 1993. Due to the close relationship of six organizations in the Peninsula that share the work for social equity and woman’s rights; Woman’s House/Factor X Group, a Tijuana based reproductive and labor right’s organization that works mainly with woman of the maquila; Alaide Foppa feminist group, in Mexicali, working in the judicial system, in order to achieve better protection for woman under the law; The woman’s group in La Paz B.C.S and in Ensenada who look out for the welfare of woman’s rights and Social Communitarian Medicine, in Tijuana educates and orients about reproductive health and rights for women, made up the group.

The Net, as they call themselves, are non profit organizations with over 20 years of experience that decided to connect. The idea came about when they saw the need to unify in order to gain strength, having constant communication and joined programs.

One of the members of The Net, is Socorro Maya (part of Alaide Foppa in Mexicali) a lawyer, who besides giving free legal advice to women, is currently the lawyer in Paulina’s case before the Interamerican Court of Justice, alleging that Paulina’s legitimate right to choose was denied by authorities.

Socorro has been a part of the group since the start and she remembers “the conditions to make the net where simple: no one looses their autonomy, no political party activism, everyone has to agree for The Net to take action and up until now, the experience has only made us stronger.”

The II Woman’s Net Forum recently took place, a two day conference, on the state university campus in Tijuana, that brought attention to legal propositions, philosophical views, experiences and underneath it all a constant dialogue and need to understand.

Of the many topics covered, reoccurring themes kept coming up: reproductive health, contraception, and abortion. OB/GYN Dr. Ramírez Lucero gave a lot of information about the medical aspects of emergency contraception and later, Martha Ramírez Lucero, a lawyer who is part of the Womans Bar, explained the proposal that is now being considered in State Congress in emergency contraception.

If the proposal stands, and becomes a law, it would require state officials and the doctor who examines the victim, -and their parents, in cases of under aged victims- to explain what emergency contraception is and how to use it, even before their statement is taken.

In Baja California, the majority of rape victims that come forward do so within the first five hours after the attack, emergency contraception works up to 72 hours after intercourse so, if the proposal is approved, the victims that became pregnant wouldn’t have to wait for the court to give them the right to an abortion- given to certain cases, such as rape, before the second trimester- saving the victim the agonizing trauma and waiting that come, at a time where the victim is just getting over the painful attack.

One of the most impressive conferences, maybe because of my own fight with right to choose against my catholic up bringing, was the one given by Pilar Sánchez, a catholic feminist part of Catholics for a Free Choice with a great journey. She was a Franciscan Missionary Nun for 13 years until she left her apostolate “to work for my church, who I want to change…building in the hope of another way for us to get along”.

Pilar, theology and philosophy graduate, tells of a church which isn’t monolithic, or homogenous, a church that sometimes makes mistakes and where lots of different views collide. About abortion, she believes there are now easy answers, it is rather a painful process that many women find necessary according to their conscience, in the end, philosophically speaking, she believes there is more than one moral option to given circumstance.

“The Paulina case” with its face and wounds, kept coming up constantly as a clear statement of México’s traditional belief system, and how it comes up against Mexican laws again and again, this making it urgent to create a more plural and participative way of thinking among the county.

And that takes us to another subject discussed in the forum, the Mexican feminism, a talk given by Liz Maier, a social researcher in COLEF- Northern Frontier Research Institute.

In the seventies and even now, México never had a massive feminist movement, but rather a small group of women who had access to education reading. Nevertheless, women empower social movement in a big way in México, the vast majority of social groups and organizations in this county have a huge percentage of women active in them, such is the case with the Urban Popular Movement, made up of 85% by women.

Why then didn’t the feminist movement massify? Because of its socioeconomic structure, Mexican woman have different priorities than those living in fully developed countries; their worries have more to do with proper health care, better education or even paved streets, than with their right to pleasure, autonomy or contraceptives. What seems urgent for a lot of women in México has to do more with total social awareness.

As the forum progressed, the audience became participants, and the “right wing station” of the world came into discussion, about how, in recent years not only the Vatican, but other governments have become more conservative and are meeting the demands of right wing civil groups.

For Liz Maier, the deconstruction of patriarchal thinking hasn’t happened in full, not even at a personal level, Mexican feminism, or even worldwide still has a lot to learn about how to organize, bond and be strong about what its belief system.

I got out of the forum very cheerful, there wasn’t any male-bashing, or hate talk or radical ideas, but rather a bumpy sharing of values, ideas, experiences, something a 30 member group allows with ease.

As I drive home I’m stuck in traffic, reading the bumper sticker in front of me “I defend life with my own” and somehow, I trust, that right beside that proposal, is my right to think otherwise, and I play with the idea that they both can coexist with no harm done.

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