Mexican network smuggles abortion drugs to American women

The drug, an FDA-approved two-drug combination, had traveled through the interior of Mexico in the previous days, handled by a clandestine network of some 30 organizations in the country.

Since the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the network moved an average of 100 doses across the border each day, according to organizers.

“Drugs come in a thousand ways, creatively, into the hands of women,” said Verónica Cruz Sánchez, a prominent Mexican abortion activist whose group, Las Libres, helps run the network.

Abortions in Texas, including the distribution of medical abortion — the most commonly used method of abortion in the country — were effectively banned following the June High Court ruling.

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

Although traveling to other states for an abortion is an option, it is not straightforward. Women undergoing the multi-day medical abortion treatment are often told to stay in the state in which they started the process, making these trips prohibitively expensive for some.

So the audacious — and illegal — Mexican Network operation emerged as one of the few avenues for women seeking abortions in South Texas and beyond, drawing on a model of access to activist-led abortion that already exists in Mexico.

Sandra Cardona, whose group Necesito Abortar Mexico is part of the Mexican Abortion Network, says her group alone received more than 70 requests for help from women in the United States in the week following the Supreme Court ruling. .

“What we’ve done is start giving them options,” she said.

The “accompanying” model

Administering misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs approved for use together in medical abortion, has long been a means of access to abortion for women who live in parts of Mexico where the procedure is inaccessible.

Under the “acompañimiento”, or accompaniment model, community health workers, often linked to reproductive rights groups, support women through medical abortion treatment with information and medical advice, virtually or in person, and in some cases also provide the necessary help pills.

The pattern is common around the world, especially in places where access to abortion is restricted.

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In a set of guidelines released in March, the World Health Organization outlined best practices for using buddy and other abortion service delivery networks around the world, saying abortions self-managed “must be recognized as a potentially enabling and active extension of the health system.”

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

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

La Abortería in Monterrey, where women from Mexico and the United States can have medical abortion treatments.

Earlier this year, Cardona converted the second floor of his property in the northern city of Monterrey into La Abortería, a set of comfortably decorated rooms where women from Mexico and the United States can have medical abortion treatments.

Last week, two Texas women had medical abortions at the center, Cardona said.

US abortion rules are getting tougher

Americans’ access to abortion is expected to be restricted in a total of at least 26 states as other planned state laws go into effect in the coming weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy organization. reproductive rights.

Many state laws do not appear to distinguish between medication and surgical abortion, and legislation already in place in several states prohibits telehealth for abortion medication prescriptions, complicating delivery services out of state.

People who seek and receive abortion-inducing drugs, even in a state where the treatment is banned, generally face a low level of legal risk, said Farah Diaz-Tello, senior attorney and legal director of If/When /How: Lawyering For Reproductive Justice, a US-based group that, in addition to other services, operates a legal hotline.

While the state bans that are starting to go into effect generally aren’t designed to target anyone who has an abortion for prosecution, Diaz-Tello says the “increased stigma and increased scrutiny” around the abortion could pose problems for anyone who, for example, seeks medical care after a self-managed abortion.

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In fact, the greatest impact of the new medical abortion laws will be to block women’s access to them in states with a ban and increase legal risk for people who help facilitate their birth outside the law.

In the days following the Supreme Court ruling, the Biden administration vowed to defend and expand access to medical abortion, as abortion advocates signaled they would push more States to make it difficult to get pills.

The National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion group in the United States, has also suggested that states should extend criminal penalties to people who help a woman have an illegal abortion, including “trafficking” drugs. abortifacients and even giving instructions about oneself. – managed abortions.

In Texas, a 2021 law already bans the shipment of abortion drugs and threatens jail time for anyone supplying the pills who is not a doctor.

“Women shouldn’t have to live within the bounds of the law”

Ipas, a global organization for the defense of reproductive rights, has been carrying out since the spring an analysis of cross-border support networks and the corresponding American and Mexican laws. While women in the United States have the right in the United States and Mexico to travel to Mexico and obtain abortion care there, and medical tourism is common in many border communities, it may be illegal to bring foreign drugs into the United States.

A lawyer for the group said Ipas had begun preparing to defend itself against any reports to Mexican police about the organizations’ conduct in that country and was consulting with US-based nonprofits to find safe ways. and legal to deliver the drug. the.

“Women shouldn’t have to live within the bounds of the law and fear being sued to access an essential health service,” said María Antonieta Alcalde, director for Central America and Mexico at Ipas. . “But I also think it speaks to the solidarity and commitment of women and the feminist movement.”

About Bradley J. Bridges

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