Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Situated in the aftermath of Mexico City’s historic 2007 abortion reform and the subsequent re-criminalization of abortion elsewhere across the country, this dissertation chronicles the experiences of dozens of women seeking to terminate their pregnancies as they navigate the fraught moral, medical, and legal landscape that defines abortion in Mexico today. Women’s decisions to seek abortion bring them in contact with a range of institutions and actors interested in regulating reproduction in contemporary Mexico, including the Catholic Church, feminist human rights groups, and the Mexican Ministry of Health. I examine the role of these institutions in shaping processes of “reproductive governance” (Morgan and Roberts 2012) in Mexico, and also how they work to fashion new subjectivities in complex and contradictory ways. Drawing from 19 months ethnographic research, including 90 interviews with abortion patients, abortion providers, and feminist advocates in and outside of Mexico City, I analyze the processes by which women seeking abortion are simultaneously constructed as religious sinners, empowered subjects, and irresponsible citizens as they pilot a course through a conflicting web of moral imperatives and institutional entailments that surround them. I find that Mexico City’s abortion reform—while opening new and unprecedented avenues for reproductive care—has also expanded long-standing agendas of Mexican reproductive governance designed to manage the reproductive bodies and behaviors of poor women, the primary users of public health services in Mexico. My arguments reorient prevailing perspectives in medical and feminist anthropology, which celebrate reproductive rights as a hallmark of women’s citizenship in liberal societies. I analyze Mexico City’s abortion reform not as a simple expansion of freedoms, but rather as emblematic of a transformation in the way Latin American governments actively administer their populations as human rights emerge as the leading ethical framework throughout the region. Taking Mexico City’s abortion decriminalization as a starting point, my dissertation offers a new way of conceptualizing the emancipatory potential and limitations of legalistic pathways to reproductive justice. My analysis contributes to scholarly literatures on women’s health and human rights, contestations in gendered citizenship, and the shifting politics of reproduction in Latin America, and will be of broad interest to social scientists studying health, reproduction, religion, morality, law, and gender.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Rebecca J. Lester

Committee Members

Peter Benson, Lynn Morgan, Ignacio S_nches Prado, Kedron Thomas,


Permanent URL:

Available for download on Saturday, May 15, 2117