2017 Sylvia Forman honorable mention

Photo of Olivia Lawrence-Weilmann

Olivia Lawrence-Weilmann received the 2017 Sylvia Forman honorable mention

The Honorable Mention for the Sylvia Forman Prize for outstanding undergraduate student paper will be awarded to Olivia Lawrence-Weilmann for the paper “A Human Rights Strategy to Abortion Legalization and Access in Mexico City,” advisor Lynn Morgan (Mount Holyoke College).

Lawrence-Weilmann’s paper explores the implications of human rights as a discourse and strategy to advance abortion legalization in Mexico City. In 2007, Mexico City legalized abortion, without restrictions based on indication, in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. The language of human rights was mobilized both by feminists in the struggle to legalize abortion and by anti-abortion activists in the conservative backlash throughout the rest of the country. This paper traces the role of human rights in the organizing for legalization and the role of party politics and the Catholic Church in counter-mobilizing human rights for anti-abortion ends.

Using Mexico City as a case study, this paper explores key questions that anthropology asks about human rights: How do competing rights claims create new subjects who are worthy of rights? What happens when rights-bearing subjects are pitted against one another? And of course, one of anthropology’s perpetual questions: who and what is the human? Drawing on feminist literature and anthropology of human rights, this paper demonstrates that while the human rights framework created progressive legislation in Mexico City, it also led to drastic new anti-abortion laws in other Mexican states with populations that were already marginalized racially, socioeconomically, and geographically.

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