March 7, 2006

Mexico rape victims often denied right to abortion

By Lorraine Orlandi

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - When Sandra Rodriguez, a mentally
handicapped live-in maid, was raped by her boss and left
pregnant in 2002, Mexican courts stopped her from having an
abortion although it was her legal right.

Rodriguez, 30, had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old,
court-ordered evaluations showed, but Guanajuato state
prosecutors questioned whether she had been raped or consented
to sex. She gave birth to a girl who was put up for adoption.

Prosecutors later agreed she was raped and admitted local
officials had acted irresponsibly in blocking her abortion.

International and Mexican rights groups say she was one of
an untold number of rape victims across Mexico who are
routinely prevented from having legal abortions.

"What's presumed here is the guilt of the rape victim,"
said Marianne Mollmann of Human Rights Watch. "It's the victim
that's presumed to be lying, to have wanted the rape."

A report by Human Rights Watch to be released later on
Tuesday details how courts, medical workers and others
systematically break Mexican law allowing abortion in rape

Largely Catholic Mexico bans abortion in most cases, but it
is legal if the mother becomes pregnant through rape. Still,
many public officials ignore that right and even manipulate
victims to waive it, activists and federal health workers say.

The issue has proven uncomfortable for President Vicente
Fox, a conservative Catholic who took office in 2000 and whose
term has been punctuated by controversy over abortion and
reproductive rights.

A firestorm erupted during his election campaign over the
case of Paulina Ramirez, who had been raped at 13 by two men in
her family's home and left pregnant in 1999. Her story drew
international attention and pitted Fox's conservative party
against rights activists.

Ramirez said health officials in northern Baja California
state, then controlled by Fox's party, along with Catholic
clergy, anti-abortion activists and others pressured her into
forgoing an abortion. She is raising the son born in 2000.

"I pass the time working, my mother helps care for him,"
said Ramirez, now 20. She would like to return to school and
perhaps study law but needs her factory job to pay the bills.


Ramirez sought government reparations and a legal
settlement in her case could come this week.

"Our report shows that Paulina wasn't the only woman, that
every year more than 100 women and girls are in the same
situation," Mollmann said. "It seems likely that the settlement
shows that her rights were infringed and the violations she
suffered merit reparations. It would be a precedent."

Mexican law often works against victims. If the rapist was
a father, brother, uncle or other relative, the victim may be
legally barred from having an abortion.

Many states codify incest as consensual sex, including with
girls 12 or younger. That means the victim has no right to an
abortion and could end up being charged with incest unless she
proves she did not consent.

Until November it was not a crime for a man to rape his
wife. Surveys show that 3.5 percent of Mexican women have been
raped and 7 percent sexually assaulted, said Dr. Patricia
Uribe, a reproductive health expert in the Health Ministry.

"For the first time the dimension of the problem in Mexico
is being documented, violence against women is frequent," she
said. "We have a lot to do to inform people of their options."