updated 3/7/2006 9:47:09 PM ET 2006-03-08T02:47:09

State officials across Mexico routinely deny rape victims legally allowed access to safe abortions, a human rights group reported Tuesday.

The study by the New York-based Human Rights Watch was presented three years after Mexico drew international criticism when a teenage rape victim was denied an abortion and brought her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Mexican government on Tuesday signed an agreement promising the victim — now an adult — more than $33,000 and pledging to guarantee the right of rape victims to abortion.

But little has changed since her 1999 rape, the report said.

"Again and again, we are finding the same cases of women going through the first trauma of being raped and then going through another trauma at the hands of government officials," study author Marianne Mollmann said.

Titled "The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion in Mexico," the 92-page report was based on interviews with more than 100 lawyers, doctors, officials and rape victims across the country.

It cited the case of a 12-year-old rape victim from a village in southern Mexico who was denied an abortion despite repeated requests by her and a social worker who tried to help her.

"I went to the health centers linked to Social Security. I went to the public hospital. I went to the offices of those in charge," the social worker, Hilda Chavez, said in the report. "Everyone turned their back. They said: 'It is not possible.'"

No clear guidelines in some states
Mexican law permits abortion in all 31 states and the capital, Mexico City, for women who have been raped or whose health is in danger because of a pregnancy.

But in 29 states, there are no clear legal or administrative guidelines on how to guarantee access to safe and legal abortions, the report said.

Veronica Cruz, director of a rape crisis center in the central city of Guanajuato, said the 10 victims she has worked with since 2000 had their requests for an abortion denied.

Blocked from getting legal help, many women and girls seek clandestine abortions, which can cost as little as $200.

"As countless studies have shown, such clandestine abortions are generally far more dangerous than legally regulated procedures," the report said.

"Some women and girls die as a result. Others endure grave injury from unsafe abortions: infection, uterine perforation, pelvic inflammatory disease, hemorrhage and other injury to internal organs."

The report urged Mexico's Congress to pass a national law providing for safe abortions and for the federal government to punish those officials deliberately blocking access to these services. It also recommends that state governments carry out public information campaigns to inform women of their rights.

Federal law: ‘Not punishable’
Federal law simply states that abortion "is not punishable ... when the pregnancy is the result of rape."

Aurora Del Rio, director of gender equality for the federal Health Department, said the study offered valuable insight into the problem.

"The Health Department will follow all the recommendations given by the report and we hope other agencies will do the same," Del Rio said.

Cruz believes the situation stems from Mexico's traditionally macho culture and from the influence of the conservative Roman Catholic Church — about 90 percent of Mexico's citizens are at least nominally Catholic.

"A lot of government officials start lecturing the victims about their own personal beliefs. They sometimes say women should not have been wearing short skirts or have been out late. They say abortion is wrong," Cruz said.

Mollmann argued that it is not a cultural issue.

"Rape and abuse are not cultural. They are problems of officials' attitudes toward human rights," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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