Mexican networks ramp up aid for American women who want to have abortions

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Abortion pills smuggled into the United States from Mexico in teddy bears. A house in New York used as a distribution center for pills. A small apartment just south of the US-Mexico border, converted into a safe place for women to terminate their pregnancies.

Networks of Mexican feminist collectives working with counterparts in the United States are stepping up their efforts to help women in the US who lose access to abortion services to terminate their pregnancies.

With the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturning the landmark decision granting women the right to abortion, these networks of activists are preparing to be busier than ever. So far this year, according to the organizations, they have helped at least 1,700 women living in the US who have sought their help.

The number may seem anecdotal, but it is exponentially higher than what they saw before. With a number of US states already enacting abortion bans since the court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, activists expect the pace to continue to pick up.

“Demand will triple,” said Sandra Cardona of “I Need an Abortion,” a collective in Monterrey, northern Mexico, 150 miles from Texas. “We used to accompany about five women a month from the United States; now there are five to seven a week.”

The strategy of these organizations is clear: self-administered abortion, that is, put the abortion-inducing misoprostol and mifepristone in the hands of women who want to terminate their pregnancy and guide them, usually virtually, when they take the drugs.

The drugs are legal in the United States, and more than half of the abortions performed there in 2020 were using them, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization. But there they require a doctor’s prescription, some states require a doctor to be present, and they are usually taken at women’s health clinics, many of which have been forced to close.

In addition to the 13 states that already have laws banning abortion, there are another half a dozen that either have near-complete bans or don’t allow it after six weeks, when many women don’t know they’re pregnant.

So there is no doubt that the alternative will be abortion at home. And that’s something the Mexican activists have a lot of experience with. Although Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional to consider abortion a crime and 10 states have made it legal, not all abortion services, with few exceptions, remain a crime in 22 states of the strongly Catholic country. .

“At the same time as we took it for granted in the United States, people in Mexico, lawyers in Mexico, have been working on and testing stories and building, building strength, convincing people that their message was the right one,” Texas said. state legislator Erin Zwiener on a visit to Mexico in May.

Mexican activists built networks, fought the stigma, pushed for legal changes and made progress little by little, Zwiener said.

Their strategy since January is the same, but cross-border.

Collectives far from the US border, such as Unasse on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, coordinate donations from abroad to buy the pills, explains Amelia Ojeda, one of its members. Others in the North focus on getting the pills in the United States in toys, jars of vitamins, or sewn into the hem of clothing.

“Those who get caught at the border, it’s like crossing drugs,” said Marcela Castro of Green Tide Chihuahua, a state that borders Texas. There are also women who live between the two countries and wear them when they fly.

The pills are then stored at so-called “drug banks,” which are basically private residences in strategic cities in Texas or even New York, where abortion remains legal.

From there, they are distributed by unobtrusive volunteers in every possible way – in person, through the mail, etc. – to women across the country who need them. Most are in states like Texas and Oklahoma that have imposed bans, as well as states where abortion remains legal, but women prefer to terminate their pregnancies in the privacy of their homes.

“The new modern threat is a chemical or medical abortion where pills are ordered online and shipped directly to a woman’s home,” Randall O’Bannon, an anti-abortion activist, said at a national convention in Atlanta last week. “With Roe heading for the dustbin of history and states given the power to restrict abortions, this is where the battle will be played for years to come.”

“Medication abortion will be where access to abortion is decided,” Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University College of Law professor who specializes in reproductive rights, told the AP last month. “That will be the battlefield that decides how enforceable abortion bans are.”

Las Libres — The Free — one of the most experienced groups in Latin America, has a strong network of allies in Mexico. There alone, people have helped 1,500 women in the United States with pills, information, and guidance this year.

Veronica Cruz, their director, said this was possible with the help of about 100 volunteers, mostly in New York and California. But given the growing demand, she said, they need “more drugs, more hands and more heads willing to work together.”

As battles unfold in US state courts, fear is growing among activists.

“In such a controversial country (like the United States), the risks are taken seriously,” said Castro of the Chihuahua group. “And they are under siege on all sides,” she added, pointing to the financial penalties or even jail terms that can be imposed in some states on those who help.

I Need an Abortion receives women in her office in Monterrey. “The majority tell us they’d rather talk and have first-hand information,” they take the pills and cross the border back to Texas, director Sandra Cardona said.

Others decide to have the abortion take place in the offices of the collective, Cardona’s house.

When they arrive, they are open-mouthed when they see what they call the “abortion.”

“It’s really crazy,” Cardona explained. ‘They tell us, ‘but this is not a clinic! It is not a shady place! It’s not scary!’”

“Well, of course, it’s a home!” she said.

Cardona has been opening its doors to women for five years now. Since May, they have equipped a small apartment on the second floor of her house with a desk and a sofa bed where women have gone through the whole process in privacy or with guidance according to their preference.

At first, women don’t believe that they are giving away the pills for free, because some have been scammed online, and they are surprised that they feel so psychologically protected.

One even told them “that if she didn’t have to pay, we weren’t a serious organization,” Cardona said with a laugh. They give them the opportunity to make a donation. “Our Paypal link has never been used so much.”

After their abortion, most realize that they could have done it in their own home. And according to the activist, that is important because the message is being passed on.

So far, most of the women seeking help from the Monterrey and Chihuahua collectives have been Latina and Black.

Cruz was surprised because most of those who contacted The Free spoke English, suggesting to her a major pending issue: undocumented migrants.

“The women who need it most, who don’t even have the Internet, still haven’t reached us,” she said.