Abortion and Anti-Poverty in Mexico

We have blogged in the past about an anti-poverty program in Chicago that gave cash and prizes to poor families who paid their rent on time, got their kids to school, and looked for work. But Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, has gone even further than Chicago to suss out an anti-poverty program that he may adapt for New York. He’s gone all the way to Tepoztlan, a mountain town south of Mexico City:

[Bloomberg and other NYC officials] watched as about 800 women waited for three hours or more in the auditorium to go up to get their money. If the women and their children have kept all their medical appointments, and if their children have stayed in school, the money is theirs to use as they wish. The awards range from 360 to 3,710 pesos (about $36 to $370), enough to buy food or shoes or other necessities. The size of the award depends on how many children they have and what level of school the children are in.

The program is 10 years old, has a budget of more than $3 billion a year and covers almost a quarter of all Mexicans.

It may seem strange that one of the world’s financial capitals should look to a small mountain town for answers to its own urban ills. But since this program got its start in rural Mexico in 1997, it has been heralded by the World Bank and others as a powerful model for fighting chronic poverty.

There is much more dramatic news today out of Mexico: abortion has been legalized in Mexico City. Here is James McKinley Jr.’s report in the N.Y. Times:

Now with this vote, this capital city became the largest entity in Latin America, outside Cuba and Puerto Rico, to permit women to have abortions on demand in the first trimester. The vote, which legalized abortion within the federal district, means that the 10 million women in Mexico City and its suburbs will have easy access to an abortion. And anyone living in Mexico could travel here for an abortion.

The quotes that McKinley provides from opposing sides of the abortion issue suggest that, as in the U.S., the debate is very far from subsiding:

Feminists hailed the vote as a clear victory. For decades, poor women here have resorted to clandestine clinics, traditional midwives and herbal potions to end unwanted pregnancies. Scores die every year in botched abortions. “It’s a triumph for women’s rights,” said María Consuelo Mejía, the director of Catholics for the Right to Decide.

Abortion opponents condemned the measure. “This is a tragic day for the democracy,” said Armando Martínez, the leader of Catholic Lawyers.


I find it mildly disturbing that religious organizations and affiliations are constantly at the front of issues outside of their control. To discuss the issue of (insert issue here)at an event that directly affects its followers is one thing, but to be the constant voice of moral rightness as an opposing view on a heavy subject that involves everyone... its just beginning to be redundant.


Cash to act middle-class. If you can't be middle-class, then act like it and we will pay you.

But didn't Freakonomics show evidence that you can't pretend to be middle-class. It's not about taking your kid to the museums. It's not about have lots of books in the house. It's not about taking them to libraries.

It's who you actually are. In the broad demographic, it's about what socio-economic class you occupy. It's about being. Not doing.

It's not about pretending to be. It's about being and as a result doing.

Yes, it's a great round-a-bout paradox.


egretman, i have no statistics, but i'd guess $3 billion a year budget for "paying to act middle-class" is more efficient than the cost of crimes and other ills. hey maybe those kids will join the middle class later on by staying at school and receiving proper health care. money well spent! president Bush should take a lesson from his amigos.


Yes chancey, it almost seems like a modified well-fare program. (well, duh) Doesn't it? Act as society wishes you to act, and get your check.

But this is the great unanswered question of Freakonomics that Levitt and Dubner did not address. Are the poor actually different in degree or kind? Is it just abut money? Or je ne sais quoi?

If it's not about reading books to your kids, then what is it about? And is it all about the sequel? Freakonomics II?


money is a powerful incentive. glad the mexicans understand it and use it well to shape human behavior.
thinking about egretman's Q: maybe it's about the biology of the parents. perhaps the right brain leads to right actions which leads to money/class? the author of "guns germs and steel" disagrees with convincing evidence though. i don't know. looking forward to Freakonomics II:)


I just hope this doesn't breed abortion clinic bombers and abortion doctor murders like happened here in the US.

It's not necessarily about reading books to kids, it's about how you you do those things. Do you rush through reading it? Or do you understand how much your child appreciates you taking time to do this?

My feelings as a parent in terms of teaching your children to make smart decisions is to follow this Viktor Frankl quote...
"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."



egretman - Maybe you should read all the evaluation studies of Oportunidades (the "welfare" program in Mexico) before criticizing it so strongly. The beauty of the program is that it has a randomized controlled trial design, so all the usual endogeneity/selection problems that plague other social programs are not an issue here and thus evaluations can actually measure the program impacts. The results? I'll let you look them up and act like objective researchers wish you to act.


egretman - Maybe you should read.... before criticizing it so strongly

huh? You talkin' to me?

I personally think that this program may be the only thing that DOES work. Maybe it's the answer to the questions that Levitt leaves unanswered.

I mean wouldn't it be supremely ironic if the answer to social woes was a form of social welfare? Can you see Reagan spinning in his grave? Can you see neocons puking their guts out?

Hey, I'm rooting for you, bodracir. I'm just not betting any money on you. Yet.


"Act as society wishes you to act, and get your check."

That's a rather harsh way of describing it. It sounds harsh, of course, because you leave "act as society wishes you to act" undefined. In other words, it makes it sound as if people are now at the mercy of any societal bias, whim, or eccentricity. Of course, what we're *really* talking about is incentivizing doing what's best for people's kids in the long run. Unfortunately, many poor people make the choice to have their children drop out of school and work because they can't make ends meet. That might make sense in the short term, but it robs the kids of a good future in the long run. Attempts to paint it as a form of welfare will unnecessarily bias people against it because "welfare" is a dirty word that immediately results in opposition and judgement.


First Of All, I´m From México, And Mr. egretman with all respect, I think you do not have ANY idea of the conditions of living for the fammilies that are capable of recieving aid in OPORTUNIDADES.

These people does not recieve the aid to act middle class, they do need it in order to SURVIVE, or would you feed, house and educate a complete family for a month with 370 USD?. (this is given to fammilies with 4 or more children)

Just to bring perspective to the issue, the minimum wage for a month is just 137 USD, which obviously does not help social mobility at all. (to tell you the truth I do not relize how the guys earning that little ammount of money do survive. (Fortunately I was raised in a middle-low class and with my effort I´m a middle class guy)

So, for me, Oportunidades is giving the opportunity to the ones that does not have any chance to go upward in social status.


Guillermo Rodriguez Castro



Dear Mr. Castro,

With all due respect, I do not think you have the English skills to understand what I believe or what I posted. And I certainly don't have the Spanish skills to talk to you directly.

So just let me say this. I pray to your god that everything you say is true and that the OPORTUNIDADES program works so great that poverty will be eliminated in Mexico.



Dear Mr. Castro,

What do you think about this abortion legalization in Mexico City?


Hi Friends,

I am taking notes on things that GOV should do to avoid Global warming.


Please help me expand the topic.



Arshad, light rail is environmentally friendly, economical, and efficient.


Hi Mr egretman...

Personally, I do not support the idea of abortion. In my opinion, it does not make sense with "responsability". (Please note that I am not talking about God, Church, etc etc).

Why responsability? Well, If you are brave enough(or fool enough) to have sex without protection, then you should be as brave to achieve the consequences of your acts. (Please look that I reffer to both of the guys, not just the girl)

I must note that abortion was previously legal when women was a rape victim, or when the mom´s life was in danger (that is valid in all Mexico).

For me, the real issue here is how to value a human life? and how prepared are we as society in Mexico to confront the abortion issue.

There is a lot of death´s in women who attend illegal abortions in all Mexico, and it is obvious that this problem will decrease, but in my opinion, Why do I have to pay with my taxes the lack of responsability of others?.

Personally I think this is just a political issue, another battle front between PRD and PAN, searching to polarize even more our divided society, as polls showed that most of the population was against legalization (not a vast majority, it was like a 60% against). Therefore, this law does not represent the thoughts of all Mexico, but it does represent a lot of citizens.

I think abortion is an extremely difficult issue no matter the country. In Mexico, we do have big pressure groups against this measure. One of them is the Catholic Church, which does have great influence in the lower classes of population. Therefore the ones who does require public budget for achieving an abortion, are the ones who fear most the Excomulgation of the church. Please note that middle and high class has historically gone to San Francisco or San Antonio in the U.S. to abort and mostly just dont give a Sh*T about Catholic Church.

Also, as society everyone behaves in a very liberal way, but at the same time we are not coherent, as we are always talking about how inmoral is each other.

We Mexican guys are reaaaaally strange... So, for me, it would be more profitable for us as a country to be given more sexual education, to give us the sense of responsability than to go for an abortion free policy.

Now, I read Freakonomics like 8 months ago, and believe me, I am convinced that this will help our criminalty slow down, but that will not solve the problem, as for me, the real problem is the lack of social mobility, the lack of opporunities, and the desire of daddy government to give us the food and the money.

We as a country are always wanting to be help by the Government. And a lot of guys do get angry becouse we have 2.5 USD gallon gasoline, 1 USD cent per hour KW of electrical bills, etc. (they think it is waaaay toooo expensive)

For me, as mexicans we must get worried about how to be more competitive, how to help entrepreneurs give jobs to guys (not micro finance, middle class entrepreneurs), to try to change the idea that the government must mantain us without the responsability of paying taxes.

Personally, If I ruled the country, I would suit a law that in order to block highways, streets, federal buildings, etc, you should be able to do that, but with your tax payment receipt. I can assure you that if that was a law, we wouldnt have any highway, street or federal building blocked.

There is a local thought in society that anyone who is succesful does have one of this two deffects, either he is gay (sorry, I do not think this, but here in MExico, population is greatly homophobic) or either he is a drug dealer.

I will finish with this little tale...

There was a fisherman fishing for crabs, and a guy observed that this guy whenever he cought one, looked at the bellie of the crab and put it in one of 2 different pots.

The observer, was very stranged that one pot was covered, and one was just left open. Asking for the reason, the fisherman told the guy that on the covered pot, he put the European crabs, as if they were uncovered, they quickly started to form a pile in order to help each other to get ALL OF THEM OUT OF THE POT.

On the other basket (the uncovered one) there was the Mexican crabs, which didnt scaped as any crab who is about to get out of the pot gets pulled back by the other crabs. in consequence, the fisherman didnt had to cover the pot, as the mexican crabs assured each other that no one else get out of there...

sad Uh? But that is REAL...





i work at an abortion clinic in san diego, part time, and mexico, central, south america and africa need to legalize abortion. promote birthcontrol like anti smoking, anti drug commercials. these regions need to be taught that if you are poor with no kids, DO NOT HAVE 5 ! pure and simple, also that having kids with irresponsible, lazy, abusive, alcoholic partners is a recipe for disaster...common sense is not that common


also if you are "conservative" and against illegal immigration, you MUST be for abortion rights! because THEY come here, because they are poor, and most of YOU hire them. Rich executives, or middleclass folks looking to save a buck with factory/farm workers or maids or yard workers are part of the problem. Do not complain about illegal immigration if you are part of the problem

Teco Duval

One of the reasons for the maintenance of poverty in Mexico is racism, another is greed - the list is endless. The wealthy scum looting this country don't even invest their money here, certainly not investments to assist emerging small businesses. No, philanthropy is as rare as REAL journalism, a functional justice system, a functional educational system or reasonably available healthcare for the poor.
Don't be duped into thinking Mexico is a democracy: elections are rigged, incompetent candidates hand chosen and then financed by government monopolies like Pemex, a nightmare unleashed in 1938. Like its northern neighbor, Mexico's poor are becoming poorer while the wealth goes to the country's rich. The last president was a fox disguised like a bush.


lets hope poverty stops.........


lets hope it stops poverty... let it end!!!!!!