Texas women have been facing some pretty hard times since the state enacted cuts in family planning financing (not to mention a new law which requires women to receive a sonogram 24 hours before seeking an abortion), and it looks like many are turning to Mexico for a solution. Desperate for an alternative to de-funded and hard to access clinics, women are seeking a potentially dangerous (and ineffective) drug to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
Women’s health centers are reporting that Texas women are crossing the border to Mexico in search of misoprostol, a drug used primarily to treat ulcers. Misoprostol requires a prescription in the United States, but it can be purchased over-the-counter in Mexico. The drug is sometimes paired with mifepristone by doctors in a medical abortion procedure, but misoprostol alone is essentially ineffective in terminating pregnancies. Kristeena Banda, director of Whole Woman’s Health discovered that “A few times a week, women come in to ask for a pregnancy test. They’ve taken the pills, but they’re still seeing symptoms of pregnancy.” Though taking the drug while pregnant won’t terminate a pregnancy, it is not without consequences – especially when women are given varying recommendations regarding dosage.
Since abortion is illegal throughout most of Mexico, pharmacists are wary of providing information about using the drug to terminate a pregnancy (though most are aware of its use for that purpose). Unfortunately, many women rely on advice given by friends or family regarding how much of the drug to take. Banda noted that some women would ingest an entire bottle in just days. While the drug can be taken safely with physician instruction, improper use can be harmful, and even deadly. One study mentioned a Texas woman who took misoprostol in her 13th week of pregnancy and had to be admitted to the hospital when she could not stop bleeding.
Though these stories are not uncommon and most likely travel by word-of-mouth, women are still turning to misoprostol. Banda stated that when she talked to the women who visited her clinic after going to Mexico in search of misprostol, she found that they were looking for “the least invasive option, both medically and personally.” It’s depressing that the least invasive option all around involves going to another country, relying on second-hand advice regarding how to actually use the drug, and risking one’s health. However, this is what happens when we limit access to abortion and other reproductive care. It doesn’t go away: it goes underground.
Another important risk to consider is that misoprostol is mostly ineffective in ending pregnancy on its own. While there are women who seek follow-up care when they still experience symptoms of pregnancy after taking the drug, many do not. Some may not realize they are still pregnant until it is too late to terminate the pregnancy. That scenario is disastrous everyone involved: mothers, fathers, children, even taxpayers who pay an estimated $11 billion due to unplanned pregnancies every year.
It is telling that women are willing to go to such great lengths to terminate a pregnancy, but it is not surprising. A safe abortion can mean the difference between a life of poverty and an education. Eliminating funding from family planning practices is dangerous and downright irresponsible. Without access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortions, women will continue to seek out dangerous options like misoprostol. The Texas woman who had to be admitted to the hospital after misoprostol caused uncontrollable bleeding does not regret her decision. In fact, she said “If I was put in the exact situation all over again, I’d probably do it again.” This is just how important it is to provide affordable and accessible women’s healthcare – and how misguided the anti-choice conservative approach to abortion truly is.