LOS MOCHIS, Mexico (July 13, 2001 2:46 p.m. EDT) - Lucila's shy giggle petered out as the conversation turned away from her dolls and touched on her pregnancy.
"I'm getting fat because I'm eating a lot," said the 12-year-old with a mental age of 8.
She conceived four months ago after being raped by her father, and is now at the center of a debate over abortion in the northwestern city of Los Mochis in Sinaloa state.
"She doesn't really understand what is going on, and what she does understand she can't accept," said the child's mother, Lucia, who has been seeking a legal abortion for her daughter since finding out the devastating news six weeks ago.
Abortion in Mexico is regulated by state law, and the Sinaloa state penal code is typical of most. It prohibits abortion in all but cases of rape and serious danger to the mother's health.
Even though Lucila's case clearly fulfills these criteria, all efforts to go through official channels have been blocked by laws that are fuzzy on how to get a legal abortion and officials unwilling to risk breaking the law.
"Nobody wants to take responsibility for this, and the doors have closed everywhere as each authority passes the buck to the next," said Patricia Espinoza, a psychologist who works with Lucila in a weekly group for children with mental disabilities.
Sitting in her brick home decorated with pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe and shaded by lime and papaya trees, the mother said she has visited and revisited the state prosecutor and the judge handling the rape case, as well as a stream of doctors and social assistance officials who have all told her they were powerless to help.
At the center of the problem is the law, which fails to establish who can authorize an abortion, or up until what month a legal abortion can be performed.
"Our obligation was to process the rape case, but the abortion issue is out of our hands," said state prosecutor Edna Aguilar who noted that the father had been detained and jailed.
She added that if a doctor was willing to give Lucila an abortion, her office would decide after the event if the action was legal.
The doctors Lucila's mother has approached said they would not operate without a judicial order that guaranteed them protection from prosecution.
According to Espinosa, the psychologist, the increasing risks associated with Lucila's advancing pregnancy have only heightened the doctors' reluctance to get involved. "If anything happened to the child during the abortion, they would be blamed, but if she dies in childbirth, nobody is responsible," Espinosa said.
The official unwillingness to tackle the problem also reflects a countrywide tendency to avoid the abortion issue.
Throughout Mexico, relatively strict laws reflect a Roman Catholic morality, but they also go hand-in-hand with the tendency to turn an official blind eye to clandestine abortions.
That uneasy situation was challenged last year when anti-abortion groups were emboldened by the presidential victory of the devoutly religious Vicente Fox. In one case, pressure from anti-abortion activists resulted in a 14-year-old rape victim being denied an abortion in Baja California state.
But with powerful forces also favoring increased rights to abortion, Fox has tried to avoid the issue, saying he favors leaving laws as they are.
"The situation is the same as ever," said Susana Vidales of the Information Group for Reproductive Choice. She said women with financial resources can usually find clinics willing to perform safe, if secret abortions, while the poor turn to often dangerous back-street methods.
Her group estimates some 850,000 abortions are performed in Mexico every year, only a small number legally.
Prosecutor Aguilar said nobody in Sinaloa had ever even tried to get a legal abortion before Lucila's mother applied.
Sitting in the tiny room where she sleeps with her three children, the mother berated herself for not doing more to protect Lucila. She had left the child with her husband while she was working as a domestic servant, making $7.70 a day.
She said her only concern now was to find a solution for her daughter. She said she felt no contradiction between her religious beliefs and her hunt for an abortion.
"I am a Catholic and I am going to stay one, and as far as I can see, in my daughter's case, abortion is not a sin," the mother said. "If it is, let God judge me on that one, nobody else."