The Rise of the DIY Abortion in Texas

Molly says that many of the women who contact her are already mothers who live hours away from the nearest clinic. Often, they don’t have anyone to watch their children while they go in for the procedure, especially if they have to return for more than one visit and can’t afford to take more days off of work.

“They told me they'd try anything: herbs, soaps,” she writes in a post that went viral online. “One asked if I knew how, exactly, it was that you went about using a wire hanger to abort. Two or three days later, they would receive a small, unmarked envelope. Inside the envelope were doses of two different drugs that, when used together, will abort nearly any first-trimester pregnancy.”

So far, Molly says she has sent the pills out to between 50 and 100 women. Sometimes she receives emails that seem like “suspicious pleas”—messages that sound little too-scripted, like the person behind the keyboard is playing a role to catch Molly at her own game. So now, she’s scaling back on sending the drug packages, instead referring women to international pharmacies to buy the medications themselves.

Sending the pills is a risky endeavor. Legally, the process puts her in harm’s way, but even more worrisome is the possibility that the medications she sends might seriously jeopardize a woman’s health. As many reproductive health experts warn, the pills she buys from the international pharmacies could be counterfeit, or they could be real and still cause complications.

“I know, when I do it, that it could be a devil's bargain,” Molly writes in the post. “This could be the envelope that gets traced back to me. This could be the one that lands me in prison. Or, even worse, it could be the one that kills someone. The abortion drugs rarely cause major complications (less often than birth), but they do happen. I don't know what I would do with that on my conscience. I haven't had to find out yet.”

* * *

Back in Texas, HB2, the state’s strict new abortion law, shows no signs of letting up.

In March, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court ruled unanimously that the admitting privileges provision in HB 2, which led to the closures of clinics in the Valley and elsewhere, “does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman." Since the law went into effect, the state’s number of licensed abortion providers dropped from 40 to 28, and only 24 centers still offer the surgical procedure.

And in September, another portion of HB2 will go into effect, which requires all abortion providers to conform to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers—a costly upgrade that is expected to shut down the majority of the state's remaining clinics. When this portion of the law goes into effect, the number of abortion facilities in the state is expected to drop to six.

Today in Texas things are starting to look a lot like the early years of miso in places like Brazil and Chile: The simple guidelines about miso haven't yet made it to women in the state. But eventually, in those countries, the Internet and the democratization of information prevailed. Unless, and until, abortion restrictions change again, Latin America’s DIY-abortion culture might be the future of women in South Texas.

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Erica Hellerstein is a freelance writer based in Berkeley, California.

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