Elena Cauduro Perez was graduating from high school in 2019 when she took a home pregnancy test and it tested positive.
She scheduled an abortion at a Mexico City hospital where her boyfriend’s sister worked. But heavy traffic slowed the journey from her home in Morelos state and she missed her appointment.
While searching online for an alternative, Cauduro found a clinic that offered him an abortion for less than $ 100. The woman who opened the door took her to the back for an ultrasound – which showed she was five weeks late – then handed her a plastic model of a fetus and began to explain the character sacred of life.
Cauduro had been duped.
The clinic was part of the Centro de Ayuda para la Mujer Latinoamericana (Help Center for Latin American Women), a non-profit organization whose main objective is to prevent abortions.
Known as CAM, the organization works largely incognito at a time when legislation and court rulings are overturning abortion restrictions in Latin America. In Mexico last month, a Supreme Court ruling paved the way for nationwide legalization.
The group finds women like Cauduro in two ways. Its volunteers park vans outside legitimate public abortion clinics, leaving the impression that they are working together, and asking women in line to come inside for free ultrasounds. He also runs clinics that advertise abortions but do not offer them.
Once staff members get a woman’s attention, the lobbying campaign begins, according to the testimonies of several women interviewed by The Times.
“I thought it was okay for her to try to convince me not to have an abortion, but it got too extreme,” Cauduro said.
Left alone to watch a graphic video of an abortion in progress, she closed her eyes. But panic swept over him as the narrator described the proceedings and the dramatic music played in the background.
Meanwhile, the manager tried to persuade Cauduro’s boyfriend in the waiting room that they were making a big mistake.
Cauduro insisted she wanted to terminate her pregnancy, only to be told the clinic was running out of abortion pills.
CAM was founded in 1989 as a project of the Mexican anti-abortion activist group Comité Nacional Pro-Vida.
Abortion was illegal throughout Mexico, except in rare cases such as rape. Many were executed anyway, sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Pro-Vida set up clinics offering pregnancy services such as free ultrasounds, but the main goal was to get in touch with women who wanted to have an abortion in the hope of stopping them.
The clinics ran advertisements such as “Are you pregnant and need help?” according to Salvador Frausto, co-author of a 2008 book on Jorge Serrano Limón, a staunch Catholic who founded CAM when he was the leader of Pro-Vida.
Frausto said the organization had grown considerably around 2002 with hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal government funding after the Conservatives won the presidency and legislature. Anti-abortion groups in Europe and the United States have also contributed.
Serrano Limón, who could not be reached for comment, was forced to resign as director of Pro-Vida in 2005 after being unable to justify more than $ 2 million in public funds earmarked for construction clinics. He then said in interviews that the money had been used to support low-income women who had decided to continue with their pregnancies.
CAM redoubled its efforts in 2007 after Mexico City shocked the rest of the country by legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The group started a program called Operation Rescue – after the American anti-abortion group of the same name – which sent volunteers to hospitals to attract women who had come for abortions.
Meanwhile, the national abortion rights movement continued to gain traction. More than 230,000 abortions have been performed at public clinics in Mexico City since 2007, and over the past two years, the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Hidalgo have also legalized the procedure.
The recent Supreme Court ruling struck down an anti-abortion law in Coahuila state and declared it unconstitutional to prosecute anyone for abortion before 12 weeks, paving the way for legal battles that could eventually force all of them. States to lift their bans.
Based in Mexico City, CAM describes himself as a “network for the defense of human lives from conception to death in accordance with Catholic law” and states that it “aims to help pregnant women who have decided to have an abortion to freely choose to accept motherhood and to protect and preserve their dignity”.
The group’s leaders generally refused to speak to reporters and did not respond to multiple interview requests from The Times.
On its website, it claims to have 70 clinics in Mexico and 130 in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. The website does not give the names or addresses of clinics.
The Times identified four in Mexico City and three more in the states of Mexico, Sonora and Guerrero. The Sonora clinic had a small sign on the door that said CAM, but none of the others gave an indication of their affiliation.
The clinic Elena went to had a little pink sign next to the front door that said “ILE” – which in Spanish means legal termination of pregnancy and this is how clinics in Mexico refer to abortion. .
CAM also has a stealthy online presence.
The Times identified six websites and four Facebook pages that appear to be aimed at different clinics in Mexico, but all direct people to the same phone number to make an appointment – the same one Cauduro called to make his appointment. you.
“Your best alternative if you decide to terminate your pregnancy and live in Mexico City,” says one of them. Facebook page.
Another – “I am pregnant but I do not want to” – announces “the freedom of choice, solutions, a safe abortion and a necessary abortion”.
It was still dark recently as several women lined up outside the Centro de Salud México España – one of the 14 public clinics and hospitals that perform abortions in Mexico City – waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m.
Parked outside were two white vans emblazoned with the “DeSíde” logo – a combination of the words “decide” and “yes” – and a photo of a woman holding a pregnancy test, a toll-free number and promises to ‘”free termination of pregnancy”, “absolute discretion”, “free ultrasound” and “immediate help”.
The vans arrive every weekday at 5 a.m. and stay for about three hours.
A middle-aged man was handing out flyers saying that abortion can cause infertility and kill a pregnant woman. He admitted to a reporter that he and three of his colleagues were from CAM, but declined to be interviewed.
A colleague, who was wearing a blue jacket with the “DeSíde” logo and a badge, approached the women as they arrived.
One of them was Ana Cristino, 26, who had come by motorbike with her boyfriend. She later said the woman in the blue jacket left her feeling like she was working for the clinic and that a stop in the van was part of the admissions process.
That’s how Cristino ended up in one of the vehicles, where she had an ultrasound, told her she was carrying twins, and forced her to watch a video of an abortion.
“God wouldn’t give everyone twins,” the woman who performed the ultrasound told him. ” You are an elected. I will pray for you.
None of this was enough to convince Cristino to change his mind. But the moment she left the van, the abortion clinic had reached its daily capacity and stopped letting more patients in.
She returned two days later and underwent the procedure, learning that she had only carried one fetus, not twins.
People who work in public abortion clinics in Mexico City are used to having CAM outside their doors.
In an interview earlier this year, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said the vans could not be forced to leave as they were on public property and suggested that CAM had little influence over the most women.
“They are properly informed inside the clinic and they are free to make any decisions,” said spokesman Hector Barragán, who has since quit his job.
Most public abortion clinics display signs that “modules outside this institution do not belong to the health service”. But CAM often intercepts women before they see the signs.
Realizing that she had been cheated, Cauduro grabbed her purse and stormed out of the CAM clinic, still pregnant.
She immediately called Centro Médico Mujer, a private clinic in Mexico City that she found during her initial online search, but decided against due to the price – around $ 250.
There was a slot available that afternoon. In the waiting room, she was still shaken and crying as she explained to another patient what had just happened.
This patient went first, then waited for Cauduro, just to make sure she was okay. The procedure lasted less than 15 minutes.
Six months later, she received a call from a number she did not know. It was the CAM clinic, which wanted to know if she had continued her pregnancy.
Cauduro, who had hoped to forget the experience, railed on the phone, vowing to take action against the clinic.
She was still thinking about it a year later when she found testimonials online from other women who had been in the same clinic and had had a similar experience.
It was then that she decided to publicly tell the story of her first attempted abortion. The Twitter feed that it created has been shared over 40,000 times.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” she wrote. “A lot of women go through this and I want to prevent it from happening to others.”
Avila is a special envoy.