Women Turn To Mexico After Texas Passes Anti-Abortion Law

Pharmacies line the street in Matamoros.
David Martin Davies
By David Martin Davies
July 25, 2013

MATAMOROS, TAMAULIPAS, Mexico — Some Texans are learning to live with the tough new anti-abortion law which will shut down 37 of the state's 42 abortion clinics.

The law requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and clinics must meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. 

David Martin Davies
A pharmacist mascot dances in front of a pharmacy in downtown Matamoros.

For the Texas-Mexico border region this means women will have little choice but to turn to dangerous alternatives to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.

In the Mexican border town of Matamoros there’s a costumed grandfatherly pharmacist dancing the street. He’s there to attract customers on this boulevard that is lined with pharmacies. This is where women from Texas come looking for a pill that will terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

"Yeah, they come, they take some medication for the stomach, if they take more than the dosage," said a Matamoros pharmacist who didn't want to give his name.

Abortion is illegal in Mexico, but women come to buy the drug misoprostol.

"They can get it at any pharmacy because that medication is not a contra medication, we can sell it without a prescription," the pharmacist said.

He said he’s heard of the new laws recently passed in Texas, but that won’t stop what’s become a profitable trade in this Mexican border town. Misoprostol costs about $200.

According to the International Women’s Health Coalition, misoprostol is widely used around the world as a black market method to end a pregnancy. But if misused it can cause severe abdominal pain and complications.

"They can have severe bleeding, massive bleeding. Infections," said Patricio Gonzalez, CEO of Planned Parenthood in the Rio Grande Valley.

David Martin Davies
Matamoros pharmacies where Texas women can buy a drug to end a pregnancy.

"It’s unsupervised medically, and they don’t know what pills they are really getting. It may be the medication to induce an abortion and it may not be," Gonzalez said.

In the last two years a growing number of women on the Texas-Mexico border turned to underground reproductive healthcare. Gonzales said that is because of the legislature’s 2011 cuts to the Texas Women’s Health Program. That forced Planned Parenthood to shut half of its clinics in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We had eight open back in 2011, we had to close four of them down because we lost 50 percent of our budget right away. So we had to close four of the poorest clinics," he said.

That meant about 10,000 women who were getting free or low-cost reproductive health care and cancer screenings from the Planned Parenthood clinics are now turned away.

And qualified women’s health care will be even harder to find here with the latest round of restrictive abortion laws. The two private abortion providers in the Rio Grande Valley say they will close down.

“This bill that was just signed is crafted as a pretty perfect storm to close clinics down," said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.

She said the biggest obstacle in the new law is the requirement that the abortion providing doctor have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

"Hidalgo County is a federally recognized underserved community for medicine in general, so it’s very difficult for us to find local providers, so often times we fly people in from different parts of Texas," Hagstrom-Miller said. "It’s very difficult to get those folks admitting privileges.”

David Martin Davies
Patricio Gonzalez is the CEO of Planned Parenthood in the Rio Grande Valley.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide abortion in the Rio Grande Valley but Patricio Gonzalez said if the other providers do close their doors, he might explore making the required expensive renovations.

At one clinic there is a cancer screening room, about 10 feet by 12 feet, where colposcopies are done. There's enough space for an examination table, equipment and cabinets, but under the new law it's not big enough for abortions.

"The legislature wants them tripled, quadrupled in size, the hallways have to be wider, and what does that do for women’s health? Nothing," Gonzalez said.

In the clinic's break room there is a handmade sign on the table: “Keep your Rosaries out of My Ovaries.” Proof that even though the law has been passed, the fight isn’t over.