I returned a few days ago from 10 days in San Miguel De Allende Mexico, a town which was turned into an American and Canadian arts and culture tourist mecca and now a thriving ex pat community some years back, due to the opening of an art school. Nowadays there are Spanish-language academies, writers workshops, alternative healing centers and spas, and an all-year-round Unitarian Universalist fellowship that meets weekly in a gracious hotel.
The view from the hall is stunning, and there are sounds of children playing, Catholic church bells ringing and bustling street noises.
This UU community has never had regular paid ministers, attracting clergy and speakers from all over with the promise (kept) of ample places to explore, amazing meals, and scenic beauty. Instead, the fellowship donates over half its budget to starting and sustaining local not for profit groups and much of their human capital as well.
I was not able to join members in the campo — the rural countryside outside the city limits — where poverty abounds. Here, they tutor, mentor, support, build, practice the language, learn about culture, navigate differences.
While I was in San Miguel, I led a morning program on reproductive justice, based on the excellent curriculum created during her UUWF Clara Barton internship by Jessica Halperin, now a policy associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. A group of women and men, most of them UUs, a few of them from the greater community, met at the Jewish Community and Cultural Center there, to learn about the timeline for reproductive choice and be introduced to the relatively new paradigm of reproductive justice. Which, simply put, means the right to decide whether and when to have children PLUS social justice, equal access to the supports and environments necessary to genuine choice.
The picture in much of the developing and developed world is even less just.
In Mexico and especially in the Guanajuato state in which San Miguel sits, the legal right to abortion is extremely restricted. A few years back, the federal district of Mexico City liberalized their laws to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks. Other states allow a procedure in cases of rape only. In Guanajuato, not even maternal endangerment is considered grounds for a legal abortion. If a woman obtains an abortion in Mexico City and it is discovered, she can be prosecuted once she returns home.
Illegal abortions are of course common, and 36 percent of them end up with complications.
Without the core right to, and access to, means of securing a safe abortion (many women use abortion inducing pills), choice is really no choice at all.
As non-citizens, as long-term outsiders, our resident UUs cannot lobby inside their adopted (or semi adopted) country to liberalize laws that are so heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and others.
Instead, UUs in Mexico work with the locals to do the surrounding significant reproductive justice work: encouraging education of girls; enhancing the lives of the children already born; building awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault. They do what they can.
I came away with admiration for the uphill work that is being done inside Mexico by its own citizens to overcome these draconian strictures with determination and dignity, and the role our own movement is playing, along with many other faith communities, in allying for eventual change. It also made me even more committed to staying the course in this country, not allowing fatigue or even indifference to enable the continual erosion of those basic protections we thought we had secured for good and all.