A Mexican network smuggles abortion drugs to American women


The drug, an FDA-approved two-drug combination, had been traveling through the interior of Mexico in recent days, being handled by an underground network of some 30 organizations in the country.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court retracted Roe v. Wade, the network has moved an average of 100 doses across the border every day, organizers say.

“The drugs are getting into the hands of women in thousands of ways, in creative ways,” said Verónica Cruz Sánchez, a prominent Mexican abortion activist whose group, Las Libres, helps run the network.

Texas abortions, including the distribution of drug abortion – the most widely used abortion method in the country – have been effectively banned after the Supreme Court’s ruling in June.

Last week, Whole Woman’s Health, the largest independent abortion provider in Texas and the operator of the last clinic in the state’s vast Rio Grande Valley border region, announced it was closing its centers in the state with plans to reopen in neighboring New York. Mexico.

While traveling to other states for an abortion is an option, it is not easy. Women undergoing the multi-day drug abortion treatment are often told to remain in the state where they started the process — making such travel unaffordable for some.

So the Mexican network’s daring — and illegal — operation has emerged as a few options for women seeking abortions in South Texas and beyond, based on a model of activist-led access to abortion that already exists in Mexico.

Sandra Cardona, whose group Necesito Abortar Mexico is part of the Mexican abortion network, says her group alone has received more than 70 requests for help from women in the US in the week after the Supreme Court ruling.

“What we did was give them options,” she said.

The ‘guidance model’

The delivery of misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs approved for use together in an abortion medication, has long been a means of accessing abortion for women living in parts of Mexico where the procedure is inaccessible.

According to the ‘acompañimiento’ or counseling model, community health professionals, often related to reproductive rights groups, support women through drug abortion treatment with information and medical guidance, virtually or in person, and, in some cases, also the necessary pills.

The model is common around the world, especially in places where access to abortion is limited.

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In a series of guidelines released in March, the World Health Organization outlined best practices for using counseling and other abortion service delivery networks worldwide, saying that self-managed abortions “should be recognized as a potentially empowering and active extension of the health system.”

In Mexico, following a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that state laws criminalizing abortion were unconstitutional, the pills can be legally shipped from one state to another for a woman to take at home.

If the woman prefers to receive treatment under the supervision of a trained professional, Cardona, from Necesito Abortar, will welcome her to her home.

La Abortería in Monterrey, where women from Mexico and the US can undergo drug abortion treatments.

Earlier this year, Cardona converted the second floor of her property in the northern city of Monterrey into La Abortería, a cosily furnished set of rooms where women from Mexico and the US can undergo drug abortion treatments.

Last week, two Texas women had drug-centered abortions at the center, Cardona said.

US abortion rules are tightened

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization, Americans’ access to abortion is expected to be restricted in at least 26 states as more planned state laws take effect in the coming weeks.

Many state laws don’t seem to differentiate between medication and surgical abortion, and legislation already on the books in several states prohibits telehealth from prescribing abortion medications, complicating out-of-state delivery services.

People who request and receive abortion-inducing medications, even in a state where treatment is prohibited, are generally at low legal risk, says Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director of If/When/How: Lawyering For Reproductive. Justice, a US-based group that operates a legal hotline, among other services.

While the state bans that come into effect are generally not intended to target anyone who has an abortion, Diaz-Tello says the “heightened stigma and scrutiny” surrounding abortion could pose problems for anyone seeking medical attention, for example. looking for a self-selected abortion.

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In reality, the greater impact of the new medicated abortion laws will be to block their access to women in outlawed states and increase the legal danger to people helping facilitate childbirth outside of the law.

In the days since the Supreme Court ruling, the Biden administration has pledged to champion and expand access to medical abortion as anti-abortion proponents have indicated they will force more states to make it difficult to comply with the law. pills to come.

The National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion group in the US, has also proposed that states should extend criminal penalties to people who help a woman have an illegal abortion, including “trading” abortion-inducing drugs and even giving of instructions on self-righteousness. -directed abortions.

In Texas, a 2021 law bans all abortion medications and threatens jail time for anyone dispensing the pills who is not a doctor.

“Women should not go through the limits of legality”

Ipas, a global reproductive rights organization, has been conducting an analysis of the cross-border counseling networks and associated US and Mexican laws since the spring. While women in the US in the US and Mexico have the right to travel to Mexico and complete abortion care there, and medical tourism is routine in many border communities, it may be illegal to bring foreign drugs into the US.

A lawyer for the group said Ipas is beginning to prepare to defend itself against any reports to the Mexican police about the behavior of the organizations in that country, and is consulting with US-based non-profit organizations to find safe and legal ways to do so. to deliver the medication. over there.

“Women should not stay within the bounds of legality and fear being persecuted to access essential health care,” said María Antonieta Alcalde, Ipas’ director for Central America and Mexico. “But I also think this is about women’s solidarity and commitment and the feminist movement.”

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