Mexico City -- Lawmakers began hearings yesterday on a proposal to legalize abortion in Mexico's capital city, amid emotional arguments from women's groups that support the bill and Roman Catholic groups that are opposed. The city's Legislative Assembly is not scheduled to vote until mid-April, but passage seems likely. Mexican feminists say the legalization of abortion in this city of 8 million would be a landmark for the Latin American women's movement.
"We've been working for this day for 36 years, and it's almost here," said Marta Lamas, one of the nation's leading feminists and founder of the nonprofit Reproductive Choice Information Group.
Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico are the only places in Latin America where abortion is available on demand. Staunchly Catholic Mexico is ruled by the conservative National Action Party, which is fiercely opposed to abortion.
But the government of Mexico City's Federal District is controlled by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, which made passage of the abortion-rights law part of its platform in last year's national and regional elections.
The proposal could allow thousands of women from across the country to travel to Mexico City for safe, legal abortions, advocates say.
Illegal abortion is widespread in Mexico, and most private medical facilities quietly offer them, activists say. About 1 million abortions are performed in Mexico each year, in the ritziest hospitals and in clandestine "clinics" in homes in poor neighborhoods.
Catholic groups have organized several marches and rallies to oppose the proposed law, calling it an offense against nature and the unborn, and the work of "tiny groups of feminists" who support a "culture of death."