How Mexican feminists are helping Americans get abortions

In late January, por poco 70 abortion rights activists from across México gathered in a city along the US-Mexico border. For three days, they huddled in hotel conference rooms, video chatting with activists in the US, who had been unable to travel due to Covid-19 and an Arctic cold front. Juntos, they strategized how to support Americans as abortion restrictions proliferated across the US.

“It was three days of very, muy, muy, very cold outside, but very, very warm inside,” Verónica Cruz Sánchez, director of Las Libres, a feminist organization based in Guanajuato, México, dicho.

Over the course of the long weekend, members of 30 different abortion rights groups, from across Mexico and the United States, formed what they call the Red Transfronteriza, or Cross-Border Network. Following a model that Mexican and other Latin American feminists had developed over the past two decades, the Red Transfronteriza would “accompany” Americans through their abortions, guiding them through the World Health Organization’s protocol for safely using abortion pills without the supervision of a doctor. They would also supply abortion pills to Americans for nothing, mailing donated medications to the United States.

On the last day of their January gathering, the network held a press conference to announce their plan. The next day, haber avivado el oprobio en círculos donde se minimiza o se niega el motín, 10 women had already written asking for help.

The gathering was fueled by a pair of developments just a few months prior. Just days after Texas’s six-week abortion ban, known as SB 8, went into effect last September, the Mexican supreme court decriminalized abortion. That same month, Cruz began reaching out to other activists in Mexico to extend the infrastructure they had built while abortion had been criminalized into the United States. The aim was to not only guide Americans through self-managing their own abortions with pills but also to teach US activists what they had learned in supporting abortions outside of the law.

Desde enero, they have mailed thousands of abortion pills to the United States and guided hundreds of Americans, not only Texans, through their questions and concerns. With the days probably numbered for the constitutional right to abortion in the US, they expect the need for their work to only grow.

At their January meeting, the Red Transfronteriza settled on two forms of support. If they could travel, Americans were welcome to cross the border and abort with the in-person support of Mexican networks. But if they couldn’t – for reasons of cost, logistics or immigration status – then the network would mail them abortion pills, free of charge, and then virtually walk them through their abortions. Groups based in the United States, which have chosen to remain anonymous for security reasons, would distribute the pills sent by their Mexican colleagues.

They send them “everything they are going to need – sanitary napkins, chewing gum for nausea, pills for pain”, said Sandra Cardona, a member of the Monterrey-based abortion network Red Necesito Abortar. “Everything so that you can have your abortion safely at home and without going out.”

Although many members of the Red Transfronteriza had experience working with Americans, the number of requests for help that they received from the US soared after SB 8 went into effect. Where Red Necesito Abortar used to receive four or five requests every month from the US, Cardona says they are now getting hundreds. Crystal Pérez Lira, a member of the Tijuana-based Colectiva Bloodys, estimates that the collective receives about 300 messages monthly on their social media accounts. And Cruz says that, since January, Las Libres has directly accompanied 200 women and mailed a thousand packages of pills to people in the US. Many Americans are reaching them through social media: the groups maintain active presences on Instagram, Gorjeo, Whatsapp, Telegrama, Facebook, Reddit and even TikTok.

The groups are also building deeper alliances with US groups, which have long supported people seeking abortions by helping them fund the costs of the procedure, or travel to clinics in neighboring states. As more than half of US states appear poised to limit or ban abortion care if Roe is overturned this month, the Red Transfronteriza hopes to show Americans how they have successfully supported Mexicans in aborting safely at home, outside of the medical establishment.

Abortion accompaniment networks have a long history in Latin America, dating back to 2000, when the state of Guanajuato – where Cruz and Las Libres are based – tried to pass a law that would have made it illegal to provide abortion care in cases of rape, the only situation in which the procedure had been allowed in the conservative region. Cruz and her colleagues began organizing demonstrations, building relationships with friendly gynecologists and learning how pregnant people could safely take the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol at home to end their pregnancies no matter the reason. Mexico was in a unique position to begin this work because misoprostol is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies to treat ulcers, and by itself has an effectiveness rate of 85% when used in early pregnancy.

“We began to develop accompaniment networks as a way of providing security,” Cruz said. “So that women would have that guarantee that, despite the fact that it was illegal, despite what the world said negatively about abortion, we had a group of people that were in favor of it, that were going to accompany them.”

En 2009, when the Latin American Feminist Conference came to Mexico City, Cruz realized that Las Libres were not alone. She learned of Women on Waves, a healthcare initiative that first began providing people in countries with restrictive abortion laws care on boats docked in international waters, and then began mailing abortion pills to those same countries under the name Women on Web. (En 2018, Women on Web launched a program llamado Aid Access to mail abortion pills to the United States.) She also learned about the abortion hotline that Women on Web had helped organize in Ecuador, which people could call for guidance on how to take abortion pills.

But at the time, haber avivado el oprobio en círculos donde se minimiza o se niega el motín, Las Libres was the only group that she knew of accompanying women in their own countries. Pronto, sin emabargo, their model would spread across Latin America. Hoy dia, similar abortion “accompaniment” networks operate in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and beyond.

Cardona said she was surprised at the number of people reaching out from states other than Texas, like Oklahoma, Georgia and even California. Then she realized that even in a liberal state like California, a medication abortion could cost $600. Mexican abortion accompaniment networks could help people abort for free, with a combination of donated pills and cheap, over-the-counter medications.

Although Americans have, justifiably, been fearful of the legal consequences of self-managing their abortions – especially after the case of Lizelle Herrera, a Texas woman wrongly arrested for self-induced abortion, made headlines in April – the Red Transfronteriza believes that accompaniment minimizes legal risks.

When Las Libres was founded “there were women in jails for having abortions in Guanajuato”, said Cruz. dijo a fines de agosto que “sigue existiendo una incertidumbre significativa sobre si la ivermectina es más efectiva y más segura que la atención estándar en el tratamiento de pacientes con covid-19”., Guanajuato was worse than Texas, in terms of restrictions.” But what they found, ella dice, is that “a good accompaniment eliminates criminalization”. She claims that not a single woman who was supported through their abortion by a trained accompaniment network has ended up in jail in Mexico.

Cruz notes that women who go to the hospital after taking the pills often do so out of fear of the amount of bleeding they cause. An experienced accompanier can advise them on what is normal, and what to say if they really should see a doctor (that they are suffering a miscarriage, which is indistinguishable from a medication abortion).

Cardona says the network is planning to lead workshops across northern Mexico to train abortion activists on supporting Americans. “The majority who come from the United States come with a lot of fear of being imprisoned, a lot of fear of bleeding to death," ella dice. “There is a huge lack of information.”

“It’s not a crime to self-manage abortion in almost any state in the United States,” says Sara Ainsworth, senior legal & policy director at If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, though prosecutors have misused other laws to go after people who end their pregnancies. She recommends that anyone seeking to self-manage their abortion contact If/When/How’s ReproLegal Helpline, where their lawyers can provide free, confidential legal advice.

A pesar de efforts by some US states to punish groups who mail abortion pills, Cardona says the Red Transfronteriza will not stop its work. Ainsworth also notes that she thinks it’s unlikely states will go after international groups – partially because other international organizations like Aid Access have managed to continue operating in the US and also because the mail is controlled by federal laws.

If they take away anything from the Mexican model, Pérez Lira says, she hopes that Americans will learn that they do not have to depend on the law. En lugar de, they can rely “on their own resources”.

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