Mexican groups increase efforts to assist U.S. women seeking abortions

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican teddy bears were used to smuggle abortion pills into the United States.

02 July 2022 Saturday 00:20
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Mexican groups increase efforts to assist U.S. women seeking abortions

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican teddy bears were used to smuggle abortion pills into the United States. One New York house used as a distribution hub for pill delivery. A small apartment located just south of the U.S. border with Mexico was converted into a safe space for women to end their pregnancies.

Mexican feminist networks are collaborating with American counterparts to increase their efforts to assist women in America who have lost access to abortion services.

These activist networks are expecting to become busier as the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the landmark decision giving women access to abortion rights last week. According to the organizations, at least 1,700 U.S. women have sought their assistance so far this year.

Although it may seem like anecdotal numbers, they are actually much higher than the ones they had before. The activists anticipate that the pace of abortion bans will continue to increase in the United States, as a lot of states have already passed them since Roe v. Wade was overturned last week.

Sandra Cardona, founder of "I Need an Abortion," stated that "The Demand is Going to Triple." She was speaking on behalf of the collective. Based in Monterrey (northern Mexico), 138 miles from Texas, Sandra Cardona said that "The Demand is Going to Triple." "Before, we accompanied approximately five women per month from the United States. Now there are five to seven women per week."

The strategy of these organizations is simple: they provide a self-managed abortion. This means that women can have the abortion-inducing misoprostol or mifepristone at their disposal and the organization will accompany them, often virtually, as they take the drugs.

According to the Guttmacher Institute (a rights group), the drugs are legal in the United States. More than half of all abortions in America in 2020 were performed using them. They are only available in certain states, and require a prescription from a doctor. Also, they can only be taken in women's clinics that have been closed.

Apart from the 13 states with laws prohibiting abortion, half a dozen have bans on abortion or do not allow them after six weeks. Many women don't know they are pregnant.

There is no doubt that abortions at home will be the alternative. The Mexican activists are very familiar with this topic. Although Mexico's Supreme Court declared last year that abortion was a crime, and 10 states made it legal, abortion is still illegal in 22 Catholic states.

"At the time that we were taking the United States for granted, people in Mexico and advocates in Mexico have been working and testing narratives, building, building power and convincing people that their message is the right one," Erin Zwiener, a Texas state lawmaker, said during a May visit to Mexico.

Zwiener stated that Mexican activists created networks, challenged stigmatization, and pushed for legal changes, making little progress.

Since January, their strategy has been the exact same but they have taken a cross-border approach.

Amelia Ojeda is one of the members. She explained that groups far away from the U.S. border, such as Unasse on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, coordinate donations from abroad in order to purchase the pills. Others in the north focus on getting the pills into America inside toys, jars full of vitamins, or sewn into clothing hems.

Marcela Castro, Green Tide Chihuahua's state bordering Texas, said that "Those who are caught at the border, it is like you were crossing drug borders." Women can also live in between the two countries, and take their bags with them when they fly.

These pills are stored in so-called "medicine bank" locations, which are private homes in strategic areas in Texas and New York.

They are then distributed by low-profile volunteers using any means possible -- hand-in-hand, by mail, etc. -- to women in need across the country. Many are located in Texas and Oklahoma, which have banned abortions. However, there are also states that allow abortions to be performed in private.

Randall O'Bannon, an antiabortion activist said that "the new modern threat is a chemical, or medical, abortion with pills ordered online, and mailed directly into a woman's house." With Roe heading for the dustbin, and states getting the power to limit abortions', this is where the battle will be fought over the next few years.

Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University College of Law professor who specializes on reproductive rights, said last month that medical abortion would be the place where access to abortion will be decided. "That's where the battleground will be decided about how enforceable abortion bans should be."

Las Libres -- The free -- is one of Latin America's most respected groups. They have strong Mexican allies and a strong network. This year, 1,500 women in the United States were helped by people who provided information, pills and assistance.

Their director, Veronica Cruz, stated that this was possible thanks to the support of around 100 volunteers, most of them from California and New York. She said that they are facing increasing demand and need to have "more medicine, more hands, and more heads who want to collaborate."

Activists fear that the battles in U.S. state court courts will escalate.

Castro, a Chihuahua leader, stated that "In such litigious countries (like the United States), all risks are taken seriously." She added that "they're besieged from all sides", pointing out the possible financial penalties and prison sentences for those who help in certain states.

I Need an Abortion welcomes women to its Monterrey office. Director Sandra Cardona said that most women prefer to talk and have first-hand information. They then take the pills and cross into Texas.

Others choose to have an abortion at the collective's offices. Cardona's is the house.

They stand when they see the "aborteria" upon their arrival.

Cardona said, "It's really insane." They tell us that this is not a clinic. It's not a dangerous place! It isn't scary!"

She said, "Well, ofcourse, it's home!"

Cardona has been welcoming women to their home for five years. They have furnished a small apartment on her second floor with a desk, sofa bed and a table so that women can go through the entire process privately or with their companions.

Women initially don't believe that they are giving away pills for free. However, some women have been scammed online and they are surprised to feel psychologically safe.

Cardona laughed and said that one of the women had told her "that she didn't have pay" to make it more serious. They offer them the option to make a donation. "Our Paypal link is rarely used so often."

Most people realize that they could have had an abortion in their own home after having it performed. The activist says that this is important because it helps spread the message.

So far, the majority of women who sought assistance from the collectives of Monterrey or Chihuahua were Black and Latina.

Cruz was shocked that most people who contacted The Free spoke English. This suggests to her that there is a major issue: undocumented immigrants.

She said that the women who need it most, and who don't have access to the internet at all, have not yet made it to her.



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