Film highlights Mexican organization Las Libres’s unique model for supporting women during medical abortion

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

smiling couple

Aiming to inform and inspire organizations and advocates around the world, Mexican organization Las Libres has produced a short documentary film detailing its successful “accompaniment model” that pairs women seeking medical abortion with women committed to accompanying others on a volunteer basis throughout the process of a safe abortion.

Las Libres Executive Director Verónica Cruz says the documentary, “Accompaniment,” is important because the accompaniment model is one of a kind, and because people should be able to see “the other face of abortion”—the positive and accompanied experience.

“At Las Libres we were tired of hearing that abortion is almost always a negative experience for women,” Cruz explains. “We have seen that the majority of women experience it in a positive, liberating way … the women usually come back after the experience of a safe, accompanied abortion to share with us their feelings of freedom, autonomy, respect.”

Based in Mexico’s Guanajuato State where abortion is legally restricted, Las Libres has been working for years to advance women’s right to access safe abortion. The accompaniment model they’ve developed trains a network of volunteers to counsel women on how to safely use medical abortion, or abortion with pills, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Volunteers also accompany women throughout the abortion process and support them in various ways depending on each woman’s preferences and needs.

Accompaniment can include going with the woman to the pharmacy to obtain the pills, being with her for emotional support when she takes the pills, and/or sending text messages and making phone calls to check in throughout the process and make sure there are no complications. In other words, accompanying a woman in her decision to have an abortion includes responding to all the ways stigma impacts abortion.

“We think it was a good idea that people, that is to say the population in general, know the other face of abortion, the positive experience, the accompanied experience, the exercise of the human right of women to decide, and the accompaniment of women by other women who have lived the accompaniment process … to see how after a safe abortion, accompanied, that woman, that couple or that family eliminates the stigma around abortion.”

Verónica Cruz, executive director, Las Libres

Abortion is only legal in Guanajuato State in cases of rape. In all other circumstances, women who want to end a pregnancy must travel to Mexico City (the only place in the country where abortion is not legally restricted) or choose to use medical abortion outside the formal health system. Consequently, the Las Libres accompaniment network of volunteers offers necessary information and support—and indeed, the women interviewed in the film express complete satisfaction with the level of information and support they received.

“The most reassuring was knowing they’d be there from beginning to end,” explains a young woman who chose to end a pregnancy so she could complete her studies. “They wouldn’t just leave me hanging. That’s why I always felt safe and was never scared.”

“Full support throughout,” another woman says of the experience she and her partner had with the accompaniment process. “They were always ready by the phone.”

“It’s important that people recognize that this type of work is possible and necessary if we want to change the view of abortion, the stigma related to it, and the experiences of indignity that women have around the world when they make the decision to exercise their right over their own body,” says Debbie Billings, of the US-based organization Advocates for Youth, who co-produced the film with Cruz and documentary filmmaker Gustavo Montaña. “Also, it’s important to highlight the impact on the lives of those who accompany … the process brings them to new levels of sensitivity and understanding.”

Film with a purpose

Las Libres plans to share the film widely via social media, public screenings, university classes, conferences, partner organizations, and through the various accompaniment networks that already exist across Mexico. Cruz says she hopes the film will help reduce the stigma surrounding abortion in Mexico and help viewers cultivate a new and more positive perspective on abortion. In addition, she hopes some viewers will be interested in the accompaniment model and become part of the accompaniment networks—or form new networks to serve more women.

Montaña of At Dusk Media, who has also made documentaries with other organizations, says they serve as very effective advocacy tools: “These types of videos don’t only put a face and testimony on a social reality, but at the same time also empower each of the participants and everyone that has access to it… they are very powerful tools that should be available to all the public.”

The power of the Las Libres accompaniment model is perhaps most evident in the impact it has had on the Las Libres network of accompaniers: “It has made us better people,” Cruz says. “This experience has endowed us with more humanity because we have supported a life of dignity for women.”

Learn more: You can watch the full-length film (27 minutes) in Spanish or with English subtitles on Ipas’s YouTube channel. You can also help promote the film by sharing its five-minute trailer (with subtitles) amongst friends, colleagues and networks.

Note: While a medical abortion regimen including the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol is most effective, medical abortion using only misoprostol is also highly effective and, due to misoprostol’s affordability and widespread availability, much more common in places like Mexico among women choosing to terminate a pregnancy outside the formal health system. The World Health Organization recommends misoprostol-only abortion as a safe and effective treatment. Of course, women need complete and accurate information on dosing to use this method safely and effectively.

“The most interesting thing was to see that these women weren’t only prepared and lively in talking about this topic, but also to see an immense interest regarding the repercussions or impact of what accompaniment means and what the presence of an organization like Las Libres represents in a culture like Mexico’s. So it was extremely exciting and motivating this attitude of social commitment from each one of them when giving their testimony in support of helping as many women as they could and how the empowerment they had acquired through accompaniment was seen in each of their words.”

Gustavo Montaña, documentary filmmaker, At Dusk Media.