MARIA: Social Justice and Abortion Access in Mexico

maria Eugenia Lopez, the Executive Coordinator from the organization Balance, in Mexico, is touring the US and visiting with women’s health advocates and stopped by to visit with us. IWHC first met Eugenia when she worked with our partner DECIDIR, a network of young Mexican activists committed to providing their peers with accurate and complete information on abortion. During her trip, Eugenia has been promoting the first Mexican abortion fund, MARIA, which is designed to support women in traveling from the states in Mexico where abortion is criminalized to Mexico City, where abortion is legal in the first trimester. The fund is comprehensive in that it provides for financial assistance for transportation to Mexico City, local transportation, accommodation, food, and the legal abortion service, in addition to providing emotional and moral support to women seeking safe abortion services. MARIA reaches out to women from all Mexican states, through a strong alliance with grassroots organizations and local groups, which it also helps in building stronger advocacy strategies and technical capacity.

In describing the focus of MARIA (which promotes the organization through its tagline “fondo de abortion para la justicia social,” or the abortion fund for social justice), Eugenia stressed the important role that class plays in access to safe abortion services, and reproductive health care in general. The average fee for abortion services in Mexico is equivalent to USD $500; whether abortion is legal or illegal, women who have money can buy access to safe abortions. Poor women often seek alternative methods, which range from traditional herbal remedies to ingesting poisons.

According to Eugenia, Poor women who legally should have access to abortion in states that allow abortion in cases of rape and incest are sometimes denied services. Eugenia gave an example of a 16 year-old indigenous girl who was raped and whose family was supportive of her choice to have an abortion. However, the girl was unable to secure safe and legal services locally. With the assistance of the MARIA fund, women like this teenager are able to access their rights.

Eugenia’s tour in the United States is part of MARIA’s new initiative to raise funds to continue their support for women who need abortions. She explained that in Mexico, there isn’t the same kind of donor culture as there is in the United States; individuals are accustomed to donating to churches, but not to non-profits. This is part of the reason that the conservative Catholic Church is so strong throughout the country, and is the driving force behind their plan to seek donations from individuals in the United States. Presently, most of their funding comes from international organizations, while they also receive funds from individuals in the United States and Canada, and Eugenia’s trip is part of MARIA’s initial push to create an international network.

Ultimately, though it is crucial for MARIA’s sustainability that they establish a network of individual donors, Eugenia thinks that it is important to give women support that reaches beyond money.

“Initially we found that there were women who really wanted the service but were really fragile, who thought that God would come and take their ability to have other children,” said Eugenia. As a result, MARIA has developed beyond a fund and into a true support network that connects women in need with transportation, housing, and meals during their stressful trip to Mexico City. They also provide their clients with counseling before and after the procedure, and follow-up support after they’ve returned home.

For more information, check out the recent story by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The hard reality behind Mexico’s bitter abortion debate, as well as this report from the Guttmacher Institute: Estimates of Induced Abortion in Mexico: What’s Changed Between 1990 and 2006?

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