Draconian border security keeps Mexican women from abortion services in San Diego

By Kay Steiger
Thursday, November 8, 2012 15:21 EDT
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Woman with doctors (Shutterstock)
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Women who live in parts of Mexico where abortion is illegal have long crossed the U.S.-Mexican border to obtain abortions in U.S. border cities like San Diego, but those numbers might be declining thanks to draconian border security and other changes, a new study published in Health Care for Women International by California and Mexican researchers.

The qualitative study focused on a clinic in San Diego that found about 5.7 percent of the women who obtained abortion services identified as Mexican residents — actually less than researchers expected based on a previous study that found 20 percent of women had come from Mexico to obtain an abortion.

“Certainly it’s gotten harder and harder to cross the border from Mexico,” Dr. Dan Grossman, the vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health and a co-author of the report told Raw Story on Wednesday. “It used to be that you could cross without necessarily having a passport but now you definitely do. And there’s a lot more evidence of women using [abortion-inducing drug] misoprostol on their own to induce an abortion in Mexico. It may be that more women are doing that.” He also pointed out that the previous study focused on a clinic that did special outreach to Mexican women.

Researchers interviewed women visiting the clinic in October 2004 and October 2005, most of whom — 80 percent — were seeking first-trimester abortions. For many they talked to, women said that unsafe abortion is “prevalent” in Mexico because abortion is only legal for women in their first trimester in Mexico City. The drive from Tijuana — which is walkable from San Diego — to Mexico City is roughly equivalent to the drive between Denver and New York City.

Women who live too far away are often forced to obtain a clandestine abortion at home. One woman who participated in the survey told researchers, “In Tijuana I wouldn’t have even looked because, yes, there are a lot of good doctors, but the problem is they aren’t familiar with the procedure.”

Grossman continued, “Unsafe abortion continues to be a serious public health problem in many parts of the world, including Latin America. This study just sort of highlights how one very small select population of women who live near the border, who are well educated and have financial resources, are able to access safe care in the U.S., but the remaining women in Mexico — the vast majority of the population — aren’t that privileged and are either going to have to resort to seeking clandestine services that may be unsafe and put their health at risk.”

But though it may not be surprising to many that Mexican women seek higher-quality health care in the U.S., other reports show that some American women who don’t have access to abortion services at home are crossing into Mexico. New America Media, for instance, reported in August that Texas women crossed the border to obtain the abortion drug misoprostol from largely unregulated pharmacies in Mexico.

“I’m sure it’s always occurred, but we’re noticing it more,” Kristeena Banda, the director of Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, Texas, one of two Rio Grande Valley abortion providers, told New American Media. “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.”

That doesn’t surprise Grossman, who points out that women will find means of obtaining abortion when access is restricted. He added that seeking lower-cost medical care in Mexico is common occurrence and not just for abortion services. Americans are increasingly becoming medical tourists to seek less expensive medical care for a variety of services in Mexico. But although access to affordable health care is a problem at least some in government are trying to tackle, he says there’s too little attention paid to the dangers women face when unsafe abortions are their only option.

“The biggest [policy recommendation] is to make abortion legal throughout Mexico and accessible throughout the country, not just in Mexico City,” Grossman said. He also indicated that, though he isn’t an expert in immigration policy, he thinks that some women should be allowed some type of medical pass to cross the border if they’re seeking safe abortion services “so they wouldn’t have to deal with the complications of having to cross the borders.”

[Woman with doctors via Shutterstock]

Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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