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Abortion rights gain ground in Latin America

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In the tiny villages surrounding Lake Patzcuaro in the agricultural state of Michoacan, life has hardly changed over the decades – even as Mexico City, five hours south, has become one of the world's largest megalopolises.

But the vote to legalize abortion in the capital for any reason has sent ripples among these communities in the home state of Mexico's conservative president Felipe Calderón.

"This is so difficult; it's a life," says Gabriela Rendon, as her two young boys gallop across her toy store in the town of Quiroga. "Things in the city are changing too much, and they change the whole culture of the country."

Mexico already allows abortion in the first trimester if the woman's life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest. The new bill was proposed by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party – the party of defeated presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who refuses to concede defeat to President Calderón – in the Mexico City assembly.

Although the Mexican state of Yucatán currently is the most expansive – allowing women with three children to get abortions if they can prove they don't have the means to support another child – Mexico City's would be the most liberal.

A survey in Mexico in January by the polling firm Consulta Mitofsky showed that the country split evenly when asked if women should be able to decide freely whether they want an abortion in the first three months. But when responses were separated between rural and urban areas, the numbers shifted: Of those in urban areas, 53 percent supported the idea, while 62 percent in rural areas reported being against it.

Luis Mota, the gatekeeper of ancient Purepecha ruins in Ihuatzio near Patzcuaro, says that the debate has divided his town, too: Some support it and some are against it, just like in the cities. And, he says, women will get abortions no matter what. Yet legalizing it could have a broader impact on society. "You have to weigh the causes," he says. "This law could repeat itself across the country."

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