When Perla Martínez took misoprostol to terminate her pregnancy in April of 2017, the only information she had about how to proceed was a low-resolution image she’d found on Facebook.
“It basically said take four ‘misos’ every three hours, and that’s it,” Martínez told Filter.
Things didn’t turn out as she expected. Martínez started bleeding, and later she had diarrhea and felt ill. She didn’t know whether or not this was normal, or whether or not the pills were working. She was panicked, fearing that if she sought medical care, the providers would know what she had taken and report her to law enforcement. Abortion was still criminalized in the Mexican state of Baja California.
Had Martínez been supported through her abortion by someone who’d gone through it themselves or was knowledgeable about the process, she would have known that the symptoms could be eased with medication, and that they indicated the misoprostol was working—which it did. She also would have known that no doctor or nurse would have been able to tell she’d induced an abortion.
“I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I went through due to a lack of trusted information,” she said.
Six months later, Martínez cofounded Las Borders, a feminist collective in Mexicali that provides guidance and abortifacients (mifepristone and misopristol) to help people terminate their pregancies safely. Las Borders is part of a growing movement in Mexico led by acompañantas, women who accompany at-home abortions, offering support and often, the medications themselves.
There are dozens of similar collectives across the country. Las Borders attends to requests from an average of around 100 people seeking assistance every month. They haven’t yet felt an increase in demand from across the border as United States legislators steadily roll back reproductive rights, but others have.
Some were already bringing abortifacients into Texas. But over the past year, this work has markedly increased.
Collectives in northern Mexico often connect with the reproductive rights activists in the US towns and cities across the border from them. Some were already bringing abortifacients into Texas. But over the past year, this work has markedly increased.
In January, border collectives from Tijuana to Matamoros held an in-person summit, which for the first time was joined over Zoom by activists from Texas.
“The most important thing isn’t legality, it’s organization,” said Anna Díaz, a Las Borders member who was in attendance. “For the compas on the other side to know that we’re together, that they are not alone, and that we’re here to accompany them as well.”
In September 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court determined that two state-level restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional: Coahuila’s law criminalizing abortion, and Sinaloa’s state constitution holding that life begins at conception. Abortion up to at least 12 weeks of pregnancy is currently decriminalized in eight states and the capital, Mexico City. The other 23 states have yet to decriminalize abortion, despite the Supreme Court effectively compelling them to do so.
Coahuila is home to the collective Acompañantes Laguna. Members accompany around 50 people each month, focusing mostly on those who live in or near the city of Torreón, or are migrating through. But because Coahuila borders Texas, the collective also networks informally with US groups to share advice.
“When they learned that we gave out medicine, that we do this in a network, that we promote self-managed abortions, they were like, What?!” cofounder Laura Hernández Esquivel told Filter. With the exception of one Mexican-American woman they met, Acompañantes Laguna hasn’t come across anyone else on the US side providing abortifacients in a similar way.
Misoprostol can be purchased over the counter from most well-stocked pharmacies across Mexico, for an average cost of around $25 USD. But even without the requirement of a prescription, it’s not uncommon for women to be denied misoprostol by disapproving pharmacists, so the collective often sends male partners or friends to purchase it.
Misoprostol can induce abortion on its own, but has a higher success rate when combined with mifeprostone. In Mexico City, where abortion has been decriminalized since 2007, mifepristone can be prescribed and costs around $35 out-of-pocket. Clinics there help Acompañantes Laguna and other collectives acquire the medication in bulk. Combined with fundraising efforts, this allows Acompañantes Laguna to provide both medications, including direct delivery, for under $40.
“We’ve learned in Mexico that a law won’t stop abortions.”
One state over, in Nuevo León, abortion is still criminalized. Here, Necesito Abortar provides medication and accompaniment to around 500 people each month. The collective has 17 members in Nuevo León and an 18th in Texas, from where they’ve been fielding an increasing number of accompaniment requests.
In early June, Necesito Abortar sent medication and provided guidance to 10 people in the US. Around the same time, some of its members physically transported 200 brown-bagged kits over the border.
The US Food and Drug Administration declared in late 2021 that abortifacients are legal to deliver or mail, but states can still criminalize the people who do so. Texas installed penalties of jail time and a fine of up to $10,000, which could potentially be applied to members of Necesito Abortar or anyone else from Mexico if they were arrested while on the US side of the border.
The end of Roe will impact “the most vulnerable,” Hernández Esquivel said shortly after it was struck down. She noted the stark inaccessibility of abortion to anyone without housing, documentation, income, support networks. All the people who already have “the most difficult time accessing alternative abortion and health services.”
“We’ve learned in México that a law won’t [stop] abortions,” Hernández Esquivel said. “Legality is not synonymous with justice.”
Photograph (modified) by Anggita Pratiwi via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0