Lopez is the first to admit that he knew nothing about the pills when he was selling them. “I’m not a doctor. I sell things,” he acknowledges, picking up a medicine bottle. “I don’t know anything else.”
He adjusts his hat and walks around the table. He’s starting to get a little shifty: avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, and giving me short answers. I move a little closer.
“So I’m curious about how many pills you would sell,” I start. “Because women are supposed to take 12 pills over nine hours if they’re in their first trimester. That’s what most doctors recommend.”
I glance at Lopez and ask him if he knew this. His answer is a firm no.
When customers came to Lopez looking for the pills, he says he would sell the number they asked for—which often landed in the three or four range—and would charge around $13 per pill. Commonly, buyers didn’t know how many to purchase, so Lopez says he would defer to odd numbers and sell them three. Once, he sold a woman 20.
“I didn’t know what was right,” he says with a shrug.
Now that the vendors throughout South Texas operate in the shadow of the police raid, Lopez says he’s not sure if anyone currently sells miso in the pulgas.
“The demand is going to be even higher now that the abortion clinics shut down,” he speculates. “But if it isn’t sold in flea markets, more people are just going to end up going to Mexico.”
* * *
The bridge that connects El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, Mexico is surprisingly short—but the two cities on either side look startlingly different. Halfway through my walk to Mexico, I looked to my right. I could see El Paso, neat and carefully assembled, an American flag in the distance slowly swaying with the breeze. And to my left, there was Juarez, dusty and weathered like an old postcard.
Once I crossed over, I stepped inside a yellow building called Farmacia del Ahorro del Mexico and asked if I could purchase Cytoteca. “No problem,” the pharmacist said, punching a few letters into the keyboard. A couple seconds later, an estimate popped up: $48 U.S. for four pills, or around $150 for the dosage of 12. Down the street, two other pharmacists gave me similar estimates, ranging from $125 to $177, the latter two for a full bottle of 28 pills.
While I didn’t take the pharmacists up on their offer, all three were able to dispense the pills for me immediately, though none of the dosages came with instructions about how to use the pills for an abortion. Misoprostol is only sold in Mexican pharmacies as an ulcer medication, and while pharmacists are aware that women are using it for other reasons, they can’t provide information about how to terminate a pregnancy with the pill. After all, abortion is restricted outside of Mexico City.
A couple hours later, I hiked across the bridge back to El Paso. After waiting in a brief line at the checkpoint, I set my bag on the security belt and looked around the room, wondering how many people were slinking over the border with small white hexagonal pills hidden in their belongings.