Mexican state closest to Arizona bans most abortions, creating regional vacuum

Although American and Mexican women have long collaborated on abortion care, the looming restrictions in Arizona will create a regional lack of access that will extend to the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora, where abortion is also prohibited with minimal exceptions.

These strict restrictions on abortion have left activists scrambling to help women seeking medical care on both sides of the border.

“In the case of the state of Sonora, because we are on the border with the United States, what happens there affects us,” Leticia Burgos Ochoa, an abortion rights activist and former Mexican senator living in Sonora, told our sister network NBC News.

For Sonoran women seeking safe and legal abortions, going to Arizona was already part of a limited set of options, Burgos Ochoa said.

“Before, those who had the economic opportunity did not hesitate to go to the United States to have the care that is required,” said Burgos Ochoa. “Now we have more demand for assistance from the United States.”

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last week that an 1864 law that prohibits most abortions from the moment of conception can be enforced, creating chaos that will force women who need abortions to find ways to obtain abortions. do the procedure elsewhere.

“I would go to another state,” said a Phoenix woman as she left an abortion clinic, days after the sentencing. “There's a way around it, but they're making it difficult. If you can't go here, go to California, Mexico, wherever.”

A patchwork of restrictions

The growing number of American women seeking abortion care in Mexico must navigate a series of laws that, like in the United States, vary from state to state in Mexico. In September, the nation's Supreme Court decriminalized abortion nationwide in a ruling that was hailed as a victory for Latin America's “green wave” movement. However, 20 of the country's 32 states continue to prohibit elective abortions in the first trimester.

When Arizona's law goes into effect, abortion will be prohibited along most of the US-Mexico border. Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas – four of the six Mexican states that share the border – also severely restrict the procedure, expanding an “abortion desert” that would stretch for thousands of kilometers in a remote and politicized region.

“The most affected communities are those who are undocumented, those who live in rural communities with very few resources, immigrant communities where language barriers exist, low-income communities and people who face other interrelated problems,” said Eloisa López, executive director of the nonprofit group Pro-Choice Arizona, which defends the right to choose an abortion.

Many American women cross the border to obtain the abortion drug misoprostol, which is sold without a prescription in most of Mexico to treat stomach ulcers.

In Sonora, a sophisticated network of local activists has formed organizations that help get misoprostol to Mexican – and American – women despite the state's abortion ban.

However, Sonora activists say they have witnessed misinformation and price fraud by pharmacies in Mexican states with strict restrictions on abortion.

Andrea Sánchez, leader of Aborto Seguro Sonora, a Sonora-based advocacy network, said most pharmacists in the state require a prescription or overcharge women for the drug on the black market.

“We have heard of women who are sold a dose of four misoprostol pills for 5,000 ($300) or 6,000 pesos ($360) and with that dose they generally will not achieve a successful abortion,” Sánchez said. “The serious thing is that women's vulnerability is being abused, the situation they are going through, but also that they are playing with women's health.”

A cross-border collaboration model

After Texas implemented its six-week abortion ban in 2021, activists in Mexican border states began receiving a flood of calls and messages from American women seeking care on their side of the border.

Only one state along the Texas border, Coahuila, allows first-trimester abortion.

Vanessa Jiménez, an activist with the I Need to Abort Mexico network in Nuevo León, another state bordering Texas, remembers that on June 24, 2022, when the Roe v. case was annulled. Wade, her organization received 70 calls, many from women in the United States.

“There were very scared women, there were even girls who had their appointments scheduled and had them canceled at that moment,” recalls Jiménez, who says that for decades – before Texas implemented strict restrictions on abortion – women who protested for their reproductive rights In Nuevo León they shouted slogans like “poor women can't have abortions, but rich women can go to Houston.”

In Nuevo León there are only two legal grounds for abortion: in the case of rape and when the person is in danger of continuing with the pregnancy.

Due to these restrictions, Jiménez and a group of 20 women have focused on guiding and offering recommendations to people who wish to have an abortion using medications such as misoprostol and mifepristone, following the guidelines established by entities such as the World Health Organization and other leading groups. .

“Apart from American women who write and who only speak English, a lot of women in immigration situations also write to us for whom it is impossible to go to a clinic or pay for a trip to New York or California, where abortion is legalized, and that they cannot cross into Mexico either,” explains Jiménez, an abortion activist for more than 15 years. “We also provide the medication to most of those we accompany in the United States for free.”

“We accompany more than 1,000 women per month,” said Jiménez, who estimated that approximately 30% of the advice her organization offers is for people from the United States, who contact them through social networks or arrive in person. .

In addition, Jiménez founded a project seven years ago called La Abortería, which is a space in her house where she accompanies women who do not have a place to have an abortion. “There is a belief that you need to have a doctor and a nurse by your side, but the World Health Organization itself has stated that medical abortion can be performed as an extremely safe procedure,” she explains.

In Arizona, Lopez says women affected by the state's impending ban will likely seek abortions in California, Nevada or New Mexico before turning to options in Mexico.

It remains to be seen whether Arizona's ban remains in place after Election Day. Activists in the state say they have more than enough signatures to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide whether to create a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state up to fetal viability. Dawn Penich, spokesperson for the nonprofit Arizona for Abortion coalition, said the amendment has gained broad support and momentum since last week's ruling.

“The appreciation for personal freedoms and liberty is a very Arizona idea,” Penich said, adding that, especially in the state's rural communities, “the idea of ​​getting the government out of your bedroom, out of your private life and out of “Your office is very popular.”

“It's about having the choice and the ability to make the decision that is right for you and your family,” he concluded.

Isabela Espadas Barros Leal reported from New York, and Albinson Linares from Mexico City.