Several decades ago, Mexican activists drove women to the United States to have their pregnancies terminated at clinics. Women in the United States are now facing greater barriers to accessing abortion services, and Mexican activists are once again stepping up to offer assistance.
The shifting dynamic is due to the legal reversal of abortion rights on both sides of the border, as well as the expertise of Mexican activists in assisting women in overcoming legal and social barriers.
Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in September that abortion was not a crime in the heavily Roman Catholic country. The most restrictive abortion law in the United States went into effect in Texas the same month. In addition, the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on a case that could overturn the 1973 decision guaranteeing women’s access to abortions, potentially allowing nearly two-dozen states that already have laws in place to severely restrict or ban abortion.
This week, advocates on both sides of the border plan to devise strategies to circumvent new restrictions and find ways to coordinate assistance for women who want to end their pregnancies safely, including obtaining abortion pills for women in the United States.
Misoprostol and mifepristone are the pills Cruz is referring to, a two-drug combination used for medical abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Misoprostol, which was used to treat ulcers, does not require a medical prescription in Mexico and can end a pregnancy on its own, but it is more effective when combined with mifepristone, which does require a prescription but is provided free of charge by donors to advocacy groups.
They are supported by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and they are widely used for abortions in Europe and other parts of the world.
Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved those drugs with a doctor’s prescription in 2000, more than 4 million women in the United States have had medical abortions. In December, the FDA eliminated a 20-year-old requirement that women pick up the medication in person, so they will now be able to get a prescription via an online consultation and receive the pills via mail.
For years, some women living near the US-Mexico border have crossed into Mexican pharmacies to purchase misoprostol, in some cases to avoid the cost of a clinic abortion or simply because it is easier and the drugs are cheaper in Mexico.
Cruz, a lawyer, stated that advocates will closely scrutinize the new Texas law to ensure that the women and those assisting them are not jeopardized. Since 2000, her organization, Las Libres, has been assisting Mexican women with home abortions, including safely transporting the pills to even the most remote locations. They argue that during the first 12 weeks, no medical supervision is required.
Abortion was illegal throughout Mexico at the time, and Las Libres was known for successfully petitioning courts to free poor and Indigenous women accused of having abortions. Much of the stigma remains, but it is now legal in four states, and the Supreme Court’s September decision decriminalizing it has given momentum to efforts to remove it from state penal codes across the country.
More established organizations, such as Las Libres, have trained others in the advocacy network, a push that has accelerated since Mexico City became the first country to legalize abortion in 2007.
As the pandemic forced people to live increasingly virtual lives, the advocates’ assistance expanded to platforms such as WhatsApp and Zoom. They can give instructions, send advice, and even judge whether the bleeding is normal, referring them to a doctor with advice on what to say to avoid legal trouble. However, “everything flows in a positive way,” according to Lira of the Tijuana group, emphasizing that the most important thing is that the women feel they are not alone.
Since the Texas law went into effect prohibiting abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant — a growing number of women have sought abortions outside the state. The Texas law also allows private citizens to sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.