WASHINGTON - Mexican officials routinely subject rape victims to a ''second assault'' by intimidating them and violating their legal right to a safe abortion, a watchdog said in a report evocative of new restrictions in South Dakota.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report released on the eve of Wednesday's commemoration of International Women's Day, detailed what it termed ''the disrespect, suspicion, and apathy that pregnant rape victims encounter from public prosecutors and health workers'' in a country where abortions are tightly restricted.
The document appeared as pro- and anti-choice combatants gird for a possible U.S. Supreme Court fight over South Dakota's new ban on the termination of pregnancies except to save the pregnant woman's life.
Supporters of the sweeping measure, enacted in a sparsely populated, rural, and conservative state, have said it likely will be appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and could prove instrumental to their goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal.
Opponents, including the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, termed the measure ''a monumental setback for women.'' The South Dakota bill did not even make exceptions for rape, incest, or cases where pregnancy poses a serious but not fatal risk to a woman's health, they said.
The 92-page report, ''The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion after Rape in Mexico,'' also precedes July 2 presidential elections there in which two of the front-runners have expressed divergent views on abortion.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Alliance for the Welfare of All--a coalition of his Party of the Democratic Revolution and the Convergence and Labor parties--has offered to submit abortion and other politically thorny issues to public referendum. Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa of the ruling National Action Party has said he is ''pro-life'' and, on the stump, reportedly has quoted scripture and vowed to block any move to relax abortion restrictions.
The HRW document outlined ''continuing and pervasive impunity for rape and other forms of sexual violence'' throughout that country and urged authorities to improve administrative guidelines, train officials, and discipline those who run afoul of the rules.
''Pregnant rape victims are essentially assaulted twice,'' said Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director. ''First by the perpetrators who raped them, and then by officials who ignore them, insult them, and deny them a legal abortion.''
''The Mexican government needs to ensure that rape victims do not have to endure dangerous back-alley abortions or imposed pregnancies.'' said Roth. ''A public official who fails to inform rape victims of how they can obtain a voluntary legal abortion is contributing to a human rights violation and should be disciplined.''
Officially, more than 120,000 women are raped in Mexico each year. HRW, citing government studies and international comparisons, said the real figure for the country could exceed one million rapes per year.
The avowedly Catholic country of more than 100 million people allows abortion when a woman has been raped. Yet, victims--some in their early teens or pre-teen years--who approach the authorities to exercise their right to legal, safe abortion face a number of obstacles, HRW said.
Prosecutors have gone so far as to tell some rape victims that an abortion would kill them or to suggest that the women have claimed they were raped in order to circumvent abortion restrictions, the report said.
As a consequence, fear of humiliation prevents many pregnant rape victims from coming forward to assert their legal rights.
''A number of agencies in various Mexican states--particularly the state attorney general's office, public hospitals, and family services--employ aggressive tactics to discourage and delay rape victims' access to legal abortion,'' HRW said.
It cited examples including that of a social worker in Jalisco who ''showed scientifically inaccurate anti-abortion videos to a 13-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated by a family member.''
''Some public prosecutors threatened rape victims with jail for procuring a legal abortion, and many doctors told women and girls, without cause, that an abortion would kill them,'' it added.
A 12-year-old pregnant rape victim in Yucatan was passed from one state agency to another when she tried to obtain a legal abortion. A social worker who accompanied her said that bureaucrats consigned the girl to administrative purgatory for months until they were finally persuaded to uphold the law--but by then her pregnancy was too far along for an abortion.
A 25-year-old rape victim succeeded in obtaining authorization for an abortion but the public-hospital doctor in charge of her care instead gave her a browbeating, saying the fetus would require a death certificate and that she would have to bring a hearse and buy a coffin to take away the body.
Many rape victims thus discouraged from seeking safe abortions under clinical conditions resort to back-alley abortions that endanger their lives and health, HRW said.
''Underage girls raped by their fathers or other family members often find themselves with no other alternative than to carry the imposed pregnancy to term,'' it added.
Their plight illustrates the point that ''when abortion is criminalized, a number of human rights are threatened,'' HRW said. These include the rights to equality, nondiscrimination, life, health, and physical integrity.
Additionally, the watchdog assailed the Mexican legal system for inadequately protecting women and girls against sexual violence. Most cases of incest are regarded as instances of consensual sex and the age of consent ranges between 12 years and 14 years, meaning that only a relatively few cases involving the youngest of girls--those too young to become pregnant--are classified as ''rape'' and deemed punishable offenses, the report said. Even so, it added, few cases actually are prosecuted.
''State laws on domestic and sexual violence fall significantly short of Mexico's international human rights obligations,'' Roth said. ''The definition of incest as voluntary sex is an insult to the thousands of girls who suffer abuse daily. No one, and least of all girls raped and impregnated by their fathers or brothers, should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.''
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net.