Mexico: women without access to reproductive and sexual healthcare

Orsetta Bellani, Latinamerica Press (Photo: O.B.)

Antonia Pedro Blas is an Otomi indigenous woman who lives in Mexico City. Accompanied by her husband, she gave birth the last two times in the bathroom of the Gregorio Salas Hospital, part of the Health Secretariat of the Federal District. According to Cimac News, a service of the Women’s Communication and Information agency, the hospital personnel denied Pedro Blas care in a delivery room, saying that they were overfull despite the fact that she was about to give birth in the emergency room area.

The discrimination that Pedro Blas suffered is not an isolated case. At the end of 2013, the case of Irma López Aurelio became well known. López Aurelio is a Mazatec indigenous woman who gave birth outside of a hospital in the southern state of Oaxaca after a nurse denied her medical care. The image of the young woman squatting and her baby on the grass, still tied to her through the umbilical cord, circulated in social media, awakening a sense of indignation and uncovering numerous reports of similar cases. According to the Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Mexico (DDESER) in Oaxaca about 80 percent of indigenous women and women who live in rural areas are subject to discriminatory treatment by medical personnel during delivery and pregnancy check-ups.

Although in the last few years family planning made progress in Mexico, social organizations have reported on the persistent discrimination in access to reproductive health services for indigenous and low-income women. According to the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey, 53.1 percent of the interviewed indigenous women reported having used some type of birth control in their last sexual encounter, in contrast with 63.9 percent of the women who live in urban areas.


In the state of Chiapas, also in the south, where about 30 percent of the population is indigenous, the study “Investigation of the Access, Supply, and Use of Contraceptive Methods (2007-2010),” published in 2011 by DDESER and the non-governmental organization Gender Equity, reveals that the most frequently used contraceptive method among women (49 percent of women interviewed for the study) is a tubectomy, or tying of the fallopian tubes, while only 5 percent use the birth control pill and 19 percent use condoms.

“In Chiapas, a tubectomy is also done under pressure and with deception, especially among indigenous women or women from rural areas, without explaining to them in detail what the operation consists of and without later giving them any medical follow-up,” reports to Latinamerica Press Nancy Zárate Castillo, professor of gender psychology at the Autonomous University of Chiapas and former DDESER state coordinator.

According to Zárate Castillo, the Mexican government does not have a comprehensive policy for promoting sexual and reproductive rights, for there is no strategy of action that involves institutions at various levels.

“In the 70s, there was the last systematic and effective campaign at the national level in regards to reproduction. It was mandated by the World Bank and the birth rate was decreased,” explains Zárate Castillo. “During the government of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León [1994-2000] of the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], including the issue of HIV/AIDS and birth control in textbooks was an achievement. But upon the arrival in 2000 of the government of Vicente Fox Quesada [2000-2006] of the National Action Party [PAN], all of this information was erased from textbooks.”

The DDESER and Gender Equity study maintains that in the public hospitals of seven states in the country that should provide free birth control, the medical consult was instead not free, the availability of birth control pills was limited, the bureaucracy to obtain the pills is excessive, the personnel is not well trained and the adolescents must be accompanied even though there is no law that requires it.

Teenage pregnancies

The lack of a comprehensive, institutionalized strategy to promote sexual and reproductive rights is one of the factors that in 2008 led Mexico to have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies among the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):  64.2 per 1,000 births. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report “State of World Population 2013:  Motherhood in Childhood,” teenage pregnancies “are more likely among girls from homes with lower incomes, with lower level of education and from rural areas.” In fact, in Mexico the states that have higher rates of teenage pregnancy are poorer states, such as Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla.

Another factor that determines the high birth rate among Mexican adolescents is the inability to legally have a safe abortion, an option only available within the Federal District.

“Here a 2007 law decriminalizes abortion until the 12th week, when the woman voluntarily has [the abortion], meaning without any cause. They are done in public hospitals, private clinics and civil nonprofit organizations such as Marie Stopes,” explains to Latinamerica Press Carmen González Rodríguez, marketing manager for Marie Stopes, a network of clinics that provides contraceptive treatments and safe access to abortion.

“We have offices in other states, such as Chiapas, where abortions are allowed only if the woman has been raped, if her life or the life of the baby is in danger, and due to congenital malformations,” she adds. “There we work on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnant women are given counseling to be able to make the most convenient decision. If she decides to interrupt the pregnancy, we have agreements with other organizations such as María Fund, which supports her travels to the Federal District, where we freely give her the opportunity to interrupt her pregnancy.”

Article published by Latinamerica Press on 20.06.2014:

Versión en español: