Cover of Lawful Sins by Elyse Ona Singer
Lawful Sins
Abortion Rights and Reproductive Governance in Mexico
Elyse Ona Singer


May 2022
272 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503615137
Paperback ISBN: 9781503631472
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631489

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Excerpts and More

Honorable Mention for the 2022 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, sponsored by the Society for Medical Anthropology.

Honorable Mention for the 2023 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Book Prize, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) - Association for Feminist Anthropology.

Honorable Mention for the 2023 Council on Anthropology & Reproduction Book Award, sponsored by the Council on Anthropology & Reproduction (CAR).

Winner of the 2022 Arthur J. Rubel Book Prize, sponsored by the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (SLACA).

Mexico is at the center of the global battle over abortion. In 2007, a watershed reform legalized the procedure in the national capital, making it one of just three places across Latin America where it was permitted at the time. Abortion care is now available on demand and free of cost through a pioneering program of the Mexico City Ministry of Health, which has served hundreds of thousands of women. At the same time, abortion laws have grown harsher in several states outside the capital as part of a coordinated national backlash.

In this book, Elyse Ona Singer argues that while pregnant women in Mexico today have options that were unavailable just over a decade ago, they are also subject to the expanded reach of the Mexican state and the Catholic Church over their bodies and reproductive lives. By analyzing the moral politics of clinical encounters in Mexico City's public abortion program, Lawful Sins offers a critical account of the relationship among reproductive rights, gendered citizenship, and public healthcare. With timely insights on global struggles for reproductive justice, Singer reorients prevailing perspectives that approach abortion rights as a hallmark of women's citizenship in liberal societies.

About the author

Elyse Ona Singer is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

"This engrossing ethnography shows legal abortion in Mexico City to be a much-needed expansion of healthcare—and a site where norms of 'good' and 'responsible' womanhood are perpetuated rather than challenged. By sharing patients, staff, and activist experiences of this conundrum with nuance and care, Singer enables readers to think in new ways about what reproductive justice might truly mean."

—Emily Wentzell, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The University of Iowa

"Elyse Ona Singer's beautiful, riveting account takes us inside Mexico's reckoning with reproductive rights. Her moving, honest stories from Mexico City abortion clinics show staff and patients acting with humility, humanity, and a healthy dose of ethical ambivalence. Lawful Sins is a brilliant, timely ethnography, offering insights into the tangled relations between Church and state as each strives to control reproductive lives and bodies."

—Lynn M. Morgan, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, Mount Holyoke College

"In lucid and lively prose, Elyse Ona Singer tells a surprising story about abortion in Mexico. Yes, in Mexico City abortion is now legal. But the women who seek it refuse to live as autonomous rights bearers. Instead, they reckon with abortion only in relation to others: their families and God. Crucial reading for anyone engaged in debates about contemporary personhood, autonomy and reproductive governance."

—Elizabeth F.S. Roberts, Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan

"Elyse Ona Singer provides an antidote to rigid U.S. abortion discourse by inviting the reader to delve into Mexico's abortion climate—characterized as it is by its endless shades of gray and nuance. ... despite being an 'outsider' in her research, Singer paints a vivid and moving account that indicates a deep respect for and desire to understand both Mexico and its people."

—Andréa Becker, Gender & Society

"An incredibly timely book,Lawful Sins is an important intervention in hemispheric and indeed global debates about women and reproduction. Highly recommended."

—B. A. Lucero, CHOICE

"At such a turbulent time for abortion access in the Americas, Singer's book offers a chance for reflection and deeper understanding of the many issues at stake....Lawful Sins invites the reader to think beyond rights and engage instead with justice-oriented frameworks."

—Lucía Guerra Reyes, American Ethnologist

"A central contribution of Singer's book is the clear window it provides into the everyday goings-on inside Mexico City's ILE clinics. The reader gets a vivid sense of clinicians' and patients' experiences at clinics, as well as the infrastructural problems that make abortion difficult to provide and to access, including resource shortages, long wait times, limited appointments, and challenging commutes."

—Natalie L. Kimball, Hispanic American Historical Review

"The intersection of religion and state governance in the form of abortion rights is also a space of regulation and restriction, as Elyse Ona Singer deftly shows in Lawful Sins: Abortion Rights and Reproductive Governance in Mexico."

—Tara Baldrick-Morrone, American Religion

"[Lawful Sins] serves as an indispensable resource for scholars and activists engaged in the field of reproductive health access, both within the United States and internationally, offering timely insights to inform and support reproductive justice initiatives."

—Amy E. Alterman, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Elegantly written and shot through with refreshingly candid personal reflections, Lawful Sins depicts the internal dynamics of several Mexico City abortion clinics after a 2007 ruling by the city's legislative assembly decriminalized voluntary, on-demand abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation."

—Meg Weeks, The Latin Americanist