A Mexican network is smuggling abortion drugs to American women.

The drug, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), passed through the Mexican hinterland in previous days and was handled by an underground network of about 30 organizations in the country.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, organizers say the chain moves an average of 100 doses across the border each day.

“Medicines are getting into the hands of women in a thousand ways, in creative ways,” said Veronica Cruz Sanchez, a well-known Mexican abortion activist whose group Las Libres helps run the network.

Abortion in Texas, including the spread of medical abortion — the most commonly used abortion method in the country — was effectively banned after a June Supreme Court ruling.

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

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While traveling to other states for an abortion is possible, it’s not that easy. Women who undergo a multi-day medical abortion are often told to stay in the same condition they started the process in, making such trips prohibitively expensive for some.

Thus, the Mexican network’s audacious — and illegal — operation became one of the few avenues for women seeking abortions in south Texas and beyond, building on the activist-led abortion access model that already exists in Mexico.

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

“What we did was start giving them a choice,” she said.

The “accompanying” model

Delivery of misoprostol and mifepristone, drugs approved for combined use in medical abortion, has long been a means of accessing abortion for women living in parts of Mexico where the procedure is not available.

Under the “acompañimiento,” or accompaniment model, public health workers, often associated with reproductive rights groups, support women through the medical abortion process, providing information and medical advice, either virtually or in person, and in some cases also providing the care they need. tablets.

This model is common throughout the world, especially in places where access to abortion is limited.

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In a set of guidelines published in March, the World Health Organization outlined best practices in the use of escort and other abortion care networks around the world, stating that self-guided abortion “should be recognized as a potentially empowering and active expansion of the health system.” …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws in many states do not appear to distinguish between medical and surgical abortion, and legislation already in place in several states prohibits telemedicine for abortion medication, making it difficult for out-of-state delivery services.

According to Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Counsel and Legal Director of If/When/How: Lawyering For Reproductive, people who request and receive abortion-inducing drugs, even in a state where the treatment is banned, usually face a low level of legal risk. Justice, an American group that, among other services, has a legal hotline.

While state bans that are starting to take effect are generally not designed to prosecute those who have abortions for prosecution, Diaz-Tello says the “increased stigma and focus” on abortion could pose problems for anyone. who, for example, seeks medical help after a spontaneous abortion.

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In fact, the greater impact of the new medical abortion laws will be to block their access to women in prohibition states and increase the legal risk to people who help ease their outlaw births.

In the days since the Supreme Court ruling, the Biden administration has vowed to protect and expand access to medical abortion as abortion advocates signaled they would push for more states to make it harder to get the pills.

The National Committee on the Right to Life, the largest anti-abortion group in the US, has also proposed that states criminalize people who assist a woman in obtaining an illegal abortion, including “selling” abortion drugs and even giving instructions about themselves. – managed abortions.

In Texas, a 2021 law already bans mail-order abortion drugs and threatens jail time for anyone who sells the pills but isn’t a doctor.

“Women should not go through the legal framework”

Ipas, a global reproductive rights organization, has been reviewing cross-border escort networks and relevant laws in the US and Mexico since spring. While women in the US are eligible in the US and Mexico to travel to Mexico and undergo abortion treatment there, and medical tourism is common in many border communities, bringing foreign drugs into the US may be illegal.

A lawyer for the group said Ipas has begun preparing to defend against any reports to Mexican police about the conduct of organizations in that country and is consulting with U.S.-based nonprofits to find safe and legal ways to deliver the drug. there.

“Women do not have to be within the law and fear prosecution in order to access essential health services,” said María Antonieta Alcalde, director of Ipas for Central America and Mexico. “But I also think it speaks to the solidarity and commitment of women and the feminist movement.”