On Sept. 3 Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez, governor of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, announced that soon after Sept. 7 the state government would release seven women who had been jailed under Article 156, which establishes a 25-35 year prison sentence for “homicide in the case of close relatives.” Six of the women, campesinas from Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende municipalities, said they lost their babies in involuntary miscarriages; all but one have spent at least three years in prison. Gov. Oliva, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), said he thought there was a seventh prisoner who would be released, but he didn’t know her name.
Guanajuato was one of 16 conservative states that made their anti-abortion laws more stringent after the Federal District (DF, Mexico) passed legislation in April 2007 legalizing abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Under Guanajuato law, women are now subject to up to three years in prison for having abortions. Some 161 women have reportedly been arrested and have served at least some time in the state for having had abortions.
Guanajuato legislators passed Article 156 as part of the anti-abortion campaign, using the vague expression “homicide in the case of close relatives” to penalize mothers who cause the death of a baby born alive.
Several of the women sentenced under Article 156 charged that the police abused them after their arrests and forced them to say falsely that their stillborn babies were alive at birth. They also claimed that their court-appointed defense attorneys helped railroad them. In June state magistrate Miguel Valadez Reyes found that insufficient evidence had been used to convict Alma Yareli Salazar, a domestic servant who had served three years of a 27-year sentence in an Article 156 case. After being released, Salazar said she would sue the state for damages, with the help of the Free Women’s Center, a nongovernmental organization.
Faced with bad publicity from the Salazar acquittal, Gov. Oliva proposed a modification of Article 156, based on recommendations from the United Nations and the state human rights ombudsperson. The reform is a new paragraph that reduces the sentence to three to eight years in cases where “the mother deprives her child of life within the 24 hours immediately after the child’s birth, and also the act is a consequence of motivations of a psycho-social character.” The state legislature approved the modification on Aug. 31 with only one dissenting vote. Since all but one of the women currently in prison have served at least three years, the change allows Oliva to release them without reopening their cases. (Apparently the other prisoner, who has served two years, can be paroled.) (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 1, Sept. 4; Guadalajara Reporter, Mexico, Aug. 13)
The Civil Pact for Life, Liberty and the Rights of Women of Mexico held a protest at the Hemiciclo a Juárez in Mexico City on Sept. 2 to demand the prisoners’ “unconditional and immediate” release, saying the women were innocent and calling Oliva’s reform to Article 156 “inadequate.” (La Jornada, Sept. 3)
The rate for maternal deaths is five times as high in Mexico as in industrialized countries, according to a report released this month by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute. In 2008 Mexico’s rate was 57 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births; in the three poorest states, Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, the rate was 97.3 deaths per 100,000 births. Seven percent of the deaths resulted from clandestine abortions. Report co-author José Luis Palma Cabrera, director general of Mexico’s Investigation in Health and Demography (INSAD), called the statistic on abortions “the most absurd from a social and health logic; these are unacceptable deaths.”
The Mexican government says it is seeking to lower the maternal death rate to 22 deaths per 100,000 births by 2025. (La Jornada Sept. 3)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 5.
See our last post on Mexico.