By Perlita R. Dicochea
On the eve of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, Norma Ojeda, associate professor of sociology and Chicana/o Studies at San Diego State University, urged the room of 25 students, professors, and public health practitioners to acknowledge that Mexican women who have abortions need better support structures. Ojeda presented her research as part of a series of seminars organized by The Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, at San Diego.
“We need to know more about how Latinas think about women’s reproductive rights so that we can develop better outreach projects,” Ojeda said on the issue.
Ojeda gathered from the surveys that Mexican women who have undergone an abortion usually do not have physical or psychological support afterwards primarily because abortion is still illegal in Mexico.
“These women are very alone. They are afraid to talk to others about their experience and have no support for a recovery process,” Ojeda concluded.
While there are no solid figures for the number of Mexican women undergoing abortions, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health reports that the unintended pregnancy rate for Latinas is nearly two times the rate for white women.
Furthermore, Ojeda says that Mexican women have been crossing the border to schedule abortion appointments in the U.S. for several generations. “It has become a part of border life and border culture,” Ojeda said.
Since the U.S. legalization of abortion in 1973, Mexican women have chosen to visit San Diego County clinics because they are much safer and more economical than clandestine clinics in Tijuana, Ojeda said.
Selena Espinoza, who attended the seminar, is director of binational affairs at a San Diego County Planned Parenthood and agreed with Ojeda urgent call for action. “It’s very important. These women leave the clinic in silence and alone. We cannot support them. Whether we agree (with abortion) or disagree, it’s a reality we must address. We must get out of denial,” Espinoza said.
However, for cultural and privacy reasons, full data on Latinas and reproductive health practices is hard to come by. In Mexico, doctors who might conduct abortions do not dare report the unlawful procedures. There are an unknown number of cases wherein Mexican women provoke an abortion but go to the hospital under the pretense of a miscarriage. These incidents should be reported as abortions by doctors but are most often not.
Data used for Ojeda’s study relied on San Diego County Planned Parenthood surveys, which withheld individual’s education, place of birth, contraceptive practices, among other informative responses. Thus, Ojeda gathered that those who filled out the surveys in Spanish held Tijuana/Mexican residency or were recent U.S. immigrants.
In addition, Ojeda presented the results of a broader survey she conducted in 2001, which reveals the changing attitudes about women’s reproductive rights among Mexican women in Baja California. Among the findings, 82% of respondents believe that women have the right to limit the number of children they bear. Fifty-seven percent believe women should have the final decision on whether or not to keep a pregnancy. And 60% said that birth control legislation should not be in-line with religion.
Some of the results of Ojeda’s survey are in-line with a 1998 survey conducted by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health on attitudes and information about reproductive health among Latinas. The survey found that of all those Latinas who responded, 53% identified themselves as “pro-choice.” Concurrently, 68% said that women should have liberal access to abortion. However, the study also found that pro-choice Latinas are more likely to be South Americans or Mexican Americans who speak fluent English.
Despite data limitations about those who have had an abortion, Ojeda said it is clear that Mexican women using San Diego clinics for abortion are primarily upper class and are regular users of Planned Parenthood services.
“The women who use U.S. facilities are a highly socially selective group. This reflects the macro-cultural and social conditions of greater Mexico,” Ojeda assessed.
Besides the fact that abortion is illegal, historical conservatism in Mexico about women’s reproductive rights contribute to the lack of outreach to Mexican women.
Ojeda said the changing attitudes among Baja California women and the current deliberations in Mexico about abortion mark progress. “But Mexico still has a lot of work to do in this area,” Ojeda said.
Assistant Director of the Center, Erik Lee, stated that Ojeda’s presentation is a part of the Center’s desire to address more issues on public health. The Center for U.S.-Mexican studies strength has been on topics of politics and policy.
Upcoming seminar topics include “Mexico’s Large Corporations Ten Years After NAFTA,” to be presented by Visiting Fellow Maria de los Angeles Pozas on February 4th; “Executive-Legislative Relations in Mexico, 1917-2003” to be presented by Visiting Fellow Jeffrey A. Weldon on February 18th; and “Empowerment of Women: The Well-Being of Women and Families in Mexico,” to be presented by Guest Scholar Irene Casique on March 3rd.
All seminars are held on a Wednesday from 3:30 to 5pm in the Deutz Conference Room of the Copley Conference Center, Institute of the Americas Complex, 10111 North Torrey Pines Road, UCSD Campus, La Jolla. For more information go to http://usmex.ucsd.edu or call 858-534-4503. The Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies is an organized research unit of the University of California, San Diego.