MEXICO CITY — About 700 women have requested abortions at public hospitals here in the month since legislators legalized abortion in this capital city, and hundreds more have received abortions at private clinics, according to government officials and abortion rights groups.
Women's groups have praised city officials for moving quickly to put the law into effect after its April 24 approval by the Mexico City legislature. Abortion remains illegal in the rest of Mexico. This capital city, along with Puerto Rico, Cuba and Guyana, are the only places in Latin America where abortion is legal. Illegal abortions are common, however.
"Many women who in the past would have been forced to go to unsafe, underground clinics are now receiving abortions under safe conditions," said Mariana Winocur, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Reproductive Choice Information Group.
Late last week, the nation's Supreme Court announced that it had accepted a petition from Mexico's National Human Rights Commission to review the law's constitutionality. The court has not yet scheduled a date to hear the case. The votes of eight of the court's 11 jurists are required to overturn a law.
In the meantime, authorities have made the procedure available at 14 public clinics, free to city residents.
As of Wednesday, city doctors had performed 215 abortions, and 292 women had appointments for abortions, officials said. The remainder were awaiting appointments. Six percent of the requests came on behalf of minors, who require the consent of a guardian.
"There has not been a huge demand, like many people supposed," Mexico City Health Secretary Manuel Mondragon told city legislators at a hearing last week. Abortion opponents, he said, "thought that once abortion was legalized, everyone would get one. That hasn't been the case."
Abortion opponents have said they will try to stop the operations by protesting in front of hospitals and will encourage doctors to become "conscientious objectors" who will not perform abortions.
Jorge Serrano Limon of the National Pro-Life Committee said 94 doctors agreed not to perform abortions after a week in which antiabortion activists had visited public hospitals.
"There are very serious pressures being placed on doctors to perform abortions," the group said in a letter delivered this month to city officials.
Mondragon denied that any medical professional had been forced to carry out any procedure contrary to his or her religious or personal beliefs. He also said no doctor or nurse had refused to participate in an abortion.
"We haven't had to do any proselytizing," Mondragon said. "We've tried to be very respectful" of doctors' beliefs, he said.
At the city's La Villa General Hospital, Dr. Alejandro Ramirez Montero of the obstetrics department said he would perform abortions even though he was a devout Catholic.
"It's a hard question, but I think that if by doing so the death of many women can be avoided, then I will do it," he said.
Antiabortion groups have protested outside several city hospitals but have not blocked women from entering. At some facilities, they have passed out small dolls representing fetuses.
"It's very bothering," Winocur said of the protests. "But they haven't kept anyone from entering the hospitals."
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.