Social Issues

Texas abortion seekers turn to Mexico amid near total ban

By Lucia Leal

El Paso, USA, Jun 20 (EFE).- When Emma found out she was pregnant, she immediately went to her local clinic in El Paso where doctors told her what they tell hundreds of women seeking an abortion in Texas.

The ultrasound detected fetal cardiac activity and so, under the Texas Heartbeat Act, Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), abortion at this stage of the pregnancy is illegal.

“Once my local clinic found out I was past the six week mark, the only resource they could offer me was a phone number to a clinic based in New Mexico,” Emma, who did not want to reveal her surname, tells Efe.

“I live in San Antonio, so that clinic is either a flight away or an 8 hour drive,” she says.

Traveling was not an option for Emma, who started feeling extreme nausea and could not face a long journey. She had to find another way.

This is when she started researching how to access Misoprostol, a medication used to treat ulcers that can also be used to induce abortion. The medication is illegal in Texas, but just across the border in Mexico, pharmacies sell it without prescription.

“I was able to access the medication through a friend who often visits the border region and had purchased Misoprostol over the counter in preparation for a situation like mine occurring post-SB 8,” Emma says.

Emma prepared herself by watching Doctors Without Borders videos on YouTube before finally getting access to the medication at nine weeks gestation. She ingested 12 Misoprostol pills over a six-hour interval, as recommended in the videos.

The heavy bleeding and pain worried her, but she was scared to go to the emergency room and wanted to protect the people who had helped her get the medication.

“I didn’t want anyone who assisted me in the process to face legal repercussions,” she said.

Instead, she called a helpline set up for women experiencing miscarriage and was told what she was experiencing was normal.

“I regretted that I had to do so in a criminalized context within the state of Texas,” she said.

Emma is one of the many women in Texas taking the “Mexican route” to abortion since the SB8 bill, which bans termination of pregnancy after six weeks gestation, came into force in September 2021 in the southern state.

But not all women seeking an abortion in Texas have the same resources at Emma.

Undocumented women cannot cross the border leave the border area and an analysis by the Guttmacher Study Center found that 75% of those seeking abortions in the US live in or close to a state poverty and do not have access to health care.

The collaboration of networks between the US and Mexico to help women access safe abortions is not a new one.

Between 1940 and the legalization of abortion in 1973, dozens of Americans crossed the border to access clandestine but safe abortions in Mexico, Lina-María Murillo, a historian at the University of Iowa, tells Efe.

For decades many women from Juarez who had tourist visas or other means to enter the US had abortions at clinics in El Paso, she adds.

Today, the dynamic has reversed, but the solidarity among border women remains strong.

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