Crossing the line: Texans facing ban at home seek abortions next door
When 30-year-old “F” learned that she was pregnant for the eighth time, she just wanted to cry.
A homemaker dependent on her husband’s income, she agonized for three weeks about what to do, but always came to the same conclusion: “I can’t have this child.”
But then she was hit by a second problem.
F’s home state of Texas recently made getting an abortion a lot harder, one of a number of conservative parts of the United States where the political tide has turned against the procedure — despite broad support for abortion rights among the American public.
A new law bans almost all abortions after six weeks before many women know they’re pregnant — meaning that in Texas, terminating a pregnancy often means travelling out of state.
Following Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, striking down the national right to an abortion and allowing states to enact tough restrictions or outright bans, that will be the reality for millions more women.
For F, it’s a relatively short drive — 45 minutes from her El Paso home sits the small New Mexico town of Santa Teresa, where the Women’s Reproductive Health Clinic has been operating since 2015 under the state’s more liberal laws.
– Attacks –
Some have travelled much further.
“The hardest part for me was figuring out how I was gonna get here,” says Ehrece, a 35-year-old engineer who came more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Dallas on a journey that ended with a taxi ride.
“I had the cab driver drop me off at the gas station down the street. And then I kind of walked here, so no one would know where I was going.”
Ehrece, who is in a stable relationship and says she doesn’t want children yet for professional reasons, has good reasons to be cautious.
Texas’ new law allows individuals to sue anyone involved — no matter how tangentially — in an abortion. That includes not only the doctor or nurse who gives care but even the Uber driver who takes the woman to the clinic.
“They don’t make it easy for you,” said Emily, a 35-year-old yoga teacher who doesn’t want to become a mother.
“You’re worried that someone’s going to attack you outside the clinic or some nut with a gun is going to come in.”
– ‘How many weeks?’ –
The protesters who gather outside the clinic don’t scare owner Dr Franz Theard.
The 73-year-old obstetrician has been performing abortions since the 1980s; when he began it was amid a wave of violent attacks in the United States that left doctors dead or wounded.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the state of New Mexico has very liberal laws,” he told AFP.
“We have certification for everything. But they’re not hounding us every day.
“We have to provide reports in Texas, we have to give a report every month of every patient.”
Theard no longer performs surgical abortions, prescribing only abortion by the pill: one tablet of Mifepristone, which prevents the pregnancy from progressing, and four tablets of Misoprostol the next day, to induce bleeding.
In the waiting room, assistant Rocio Negrete fields call from prospective patients.
“How many weeks along are you?” she asks. “We have appointments but we can only see you if it’s up to week 10.”
Surgical abortions are available in New Mexico later into pregnancy, but abortion by pill is only allowed around week 10.
Negrete says she is taking an increasing number of calls from people in other states.
But some women, out of fear or for economic reasons — the procedure costs $700 — cross another border in search of alternatives.
– ‘It’s exhausting’ –
Half an hour’s drive south takes you to the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, where a box of 28 Misoprostol tablets — labelled as treatment for ulcers — is available for between $20 and $50 at numerous pharmacies.
Mifepristone is harder to come by, but AFP did find it.
“Women buy this and don’t know how to take it,” said one pharmacist in Ciudad Juarez with a box of Misoprostol in his hands.
“It’s a danger, they can haemorrhage, so it’s better to see a doctor.”
Back in Santa Teresa, all the women a reporter spoke to said it was vital legal abortions remained available.
“If a woman wants to have an abortion, then she’s going to have one,” said Ehrece.
“There’s going to be all types of illegal things going on where women can potentially kill themselves because there’s no one to support them, and there’s nowhere that they can go where you can safely do something about it.”
“It’s exhausting. Honestly, it doesn’t make sense that in this age — in 2022 — we can’t make our own free decisions about what we want to do.”