Olivia* wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Having an abortion in Arizona, where she lives, was not an option. After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, clinics there paused since the law was unclear. Olivia went online to look for options and found a hotline, some funding services, and clinics’ locations, yet she still did not feel that she had a solution. Until she saw Las Borders on Facebook.
Las Borders, a three-member feminist collective born in 2017 in the northern Mexican state of Baja California, guides pregnant people on how to safely use medical abortion and accompanies them throughout the process. Co-founder Perla Martínez responded to Olivia’s message and explained how to have a safe medication-induced abortion — but to start the process, she needed access to the pills. Olivia found a solution in Mexico. She traveled an hour west from San Luis to Mexicali, picking up the abortifacients and returning home to follow the procedure with the online guidance of Las Borders.
“She was a girl who was able to travel, who was able to cross, and who was able to return,” says Martínez.
Collectives in northern Mexico have built a network of acompañantas who guide self-managed abortions
Crossing an international border for reproductive healthcare might seem excessive, but for millions of US abortion seekers in border states like Arizona and Texas, it’s the best option available. Last September, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to consider abortion a crime, a major victory for advocates of reproductive rights. The ruling struck down two state-level restrictions in Sinaloa and Coahuila, setting a legal precedent for the country. Ten states have decriminalized the procedure for people who are up to 12 weeks pregnant, and it’s legal in case of rape, life endangerment, and if the fetus is not viable. Although 22 states still have to decriminalize abortion and tough laws persist, the court’s ruling recognizes the constitutional right to legal, safe, and free abortion services.
Meanwhile, across the border, Texas law bans abortion past six weeks of pregnancy and allows citizens to sue, for up to $10,000, anyone who helps facilitate an abortion. In Arizona, residents are stuck in limbo between two bans: a 15-week prohibition passed by legislators and a 19th-century law banning nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, with an exception only for extreme cases of the mother’s life being in danger. An appeals court blocked the Arizona law from taking effect earlier this month, but its future remains unclear.
Yet, even in Mexico, access to abortion services is limited, and Mexican abortion rights activists fill the gap. Collectives in northern Mexico have built a network of acompañantas who guide self-managed abortions through the World Health Organization’s protocol for safely using abortion pills without the direct supervision of a healthcare provider. This work is now serving as a model for US activists, but it comes with challenges.
“If you need to leave the Valley to get abortion care, you have to pass the checkpoints. There’s no way out of it.”
For the past eight years, Frontera Fund, an abortion fund led by Latinx femmes, has provided financial and logistical support to those seeking abortions in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. They covered travel costs, lodging, child care, food, and other financial costs that come up when seeking abortion care. But the funding has been paused, and clinics have closed with the multiple abortion bans in the state.
Cathy Torres, organizing manager and hotline coordinator, explains that it has always been difficult to access abortion in Texas, but it’s harder on the border. “Here in the Valley, we are predominantly Latinx, and there’s also a large undocumented community. We are essentially landlocked because the Department of Homeland Security has set up check-up points 100 miles north of the points of entry,” says Torres. “If you need to leave the Valley to get abortion care, you have to pass the checkpoints. There’s no way out of it.”
Abortion-inducing drugs aren’t difficult to find for those who can cross the border. In the US, the pills misoprostol and mifepristone both require a doctor’s prescription. In Mexico, misoprostol, an ulcer drug, is sold over the counter, while mifepristone requires a prescription and is more expensive. Misoprostol can induce abortion on its own, but as Martínez explains, the “combo” of misoprostol and mifepristone is more effective. The acompañantas offer them for free or at a low cost.
“We seek precisely to get it out of hospitals.”
Las acompañantas, explains Ninde MolRe, an acompañanta, lawyer, and advocacy coordinator for Abortistas Mx, are protected under Mexico’s Article 4, which establishes the right to sexual and reproductive information. “The only thing we are doing is socializing the information that the World Health Organization has given to be able to have a safe abortion at home,” adds MolRe.
But the militarization of border communities and many residents’ immigration status can complicate access to those who can’t travel to Mexico due to a lack of financial resources or immigration documents. Instead, the network of acompañantas must send the pills into the US, or someone who’s able to cross can pick them up.
These new efforts pose challenges for the volunteer networks that still have a long fight ahead for reproductive justice in Mexico, despite the legal gains in recent years. Activists of different abortion rights groups from Mexico and the United States have created a network they call Red Transfronteriza to support women in the US through self-managed abortions. The Cross Border Network is still exploring how to collaborate with the support groups for border communities and reach historically surveilled populations.
Sandra Cardona, founder of the network Necesito Abortar México, has been offering her home as a safe space for people to interrupt their pregnancies. Located in the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León, one of the 22 Mexican states where abortion remains a crime, the space called La Abortería is another option for women able to cross the border.
In the United States, abortion is still seen as a procedure that has to happen at a clinic to be safe
“Women from the United States now arrive with a lot of fear and many doubts. They are not used to doing it at home, to doing it with medication. They are afraid,” explains Cardona. “We seek precisely to get it out of hospitals.”
Alessa Rey, from Marea Verde in Chihuahua, a state that borders Texas, explains that in the United States, abortion is still seen as a procedure that has to happen at a clinic to be safe. Rey has accompanied mainly women from El Paso and Houston who often cross into Ciudad Juárez to visit their families.
People from border communities have long crossed into Mexico to buy medicine that sells for far less than in the United States. In the Rio Grande Valley, Torres explains that for those able to cross the border and come back, it’s easier to find abortion care in Mexico than in the closest state where abortion is not restricted, such as New Mexico, which is a 14-hour drive.
“We are often disenfranchised by healthcare services, and it’s an area in the country that has a lot of families who face financial insecurities, so we rely on healthcare services in Mexico,” adds Torres. “If you need abortion care, Mexico is right there.”
Due to the complex legal landscape surrounding abortion, the Red Transfronteriza is still evaluating the best way to organize and mobilize to support abortion access in the United States.
The digital mutual-aid abortion fund Reprocare has been collaborating with Mexican collectives to strengthen the networks across the US.
“Our main challenge since Roe v. Wade has been overturned is to meet the needs of the huge volume of people for whom self-managing is now the best or only option, under increased risk of criminalization,” says Reprocare co-founder Phoebe Abramowitz. “By learning from the expertise of Mexican collectives, our movement can build robust abortion support networks across the US that create meaningful access for our communities.”
“We would be the first people prosecuted”
Yet, for communities subject to government surveillance constantly, the costs are higher. Cardona explains that they are taking protection measures mainly for the women seeking abortions rather than for themselves after Facebook turned over the chat history of a 17-year-old from Nebraska and her mother to police. A secure email and end-to-end encrypted messaging, like Signal, are some of the options the network suggests.
A Texas abortion acompañante, who asked to remain anonymous, mentions that safety and digital security issues are some of the main challenges to sharing information effectively and accurately in the US and guaranteeing access to pills. On the US side of the border, the Red Transfronteriza still needs to work on destigmatizing self-managed abortions at any stage of pregnancy and building a network where acompañantas can be found in at least every city.
“We are working towards safety methods to share information and deliver the pills, and remove the stigma of 12+ weeks medicated abortions. Not everyone wants to help if it is past 12 weeks,” she said in a Signal message. “Finding people to train others is also a challenge, as some do not speak Spanish and others do not speak English.”
While being public has protected Mexican collectives, in the digital world, their Facebook posts have been removed, or their Instagram accounts disabled. They often receive social media hate and even death threats. The accompaniment they offer to American women is making them targets of US anti-rights groups.
“What was missing [in the US] and that for us in Latin America and Mexico is important is the social decriminalization of abortion. Working with the population so that abortion is seen as a health right,” says MolRe. “If you wouldn’t do it, that’s fine, but you don’t hinder those who would. I think in the United States, there is no such awareness.”
Frontera Fund is still working in the Valley, helping people navigate the post-Roe era. Along with other reproductive rights groups, they are currently suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and local prosecutors to prevent them from filing criminal charges. (At the end of September, Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife to avoid being served a subpoena in the case). But to sustain their work, members of Frontera Fund also have to take care of their safety.
“Because we are a fund and a community of predominantly Latinx individuals, we would be the first people prosecuted. No questions asked,” says Torres. “The racism runs rampant, the xenophobia runs rampant. We understand our identities, and it’s important that we’re safe.”