A few months after they met, 17-year-old “M” discovered that she and her 19-year-old boyfriend were pregnant.
There was never any doubt about what they had to do: “We didn’t want a child,” she said.
With the green light for an abortion unlikely in her conservative home state of Texas, a nine-hour overnight drive to New Mexico was her only viable option.
The couple, who live in San Antonio and asked to remain anonymous because of the political controversy, began dating just a month before Texas passed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the United States.
The state banned the procedure from the moment a heartbeat can be detected in the womb, or about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
Following Friday’s Supreme Court decision that struck down nationwide abortion rights, nearly half of U.S. states are expected to restrict access to the procedure in some form, with a multitude of women likely to make similar trips as Ms will do.
– Six weeks is ‘nothing’ –
At first, M didn’t think much about the new abortion restrictions in Texas.
“You don’t think it affects you until you’re in those shoes,” she said.
“Six weeks is nothing,” L added, clutching his girlfriend’s hand. “When you realize how late you are, almost six weeks have passed.”
M says she is just too young to be a mother, while her partner, who works in a supermarket, said money is the main obstacle.
“I grew up in a poor home with just my mother, I know what it’s like. I don’t want a son or daughter to go through what I went through, I want to give them better chances,” he said.
“Maybe in four or five years, but not now,” he added.
The couple used an online abortion locator that finds the nearest clinic based on their age, where they live, and the date of their last period.
They quickly ruled out the few options in Texas.
“We didn’t want to take the risk that the heartbeat would be detected and we would be prevented from having an abortion,” said M.
The service also suggested three clinics in Louisiana east of Texas. But none had immediate openings.
Eventually, she offered the Women’s Reproductive Clinic in New Mexico, a state where abortion is protected by law.
They called and got an appointment for the same Friday. But a 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) round trip was no small feat.
The couple devised a plan: they would leave at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, when L’s shift ended, and return on Friday morning right after the consultation.
“New Mexico Welcomes You,” read a sky-blue roadside billboard as they crossed the state line.
Five minutes later they arrived at the clinic – a small brown commercial building in the town of Santa Teresa, just north of the Mexican border.
As they parked, two protesters from the curb shouted at them to reconsider.
“They tried to come and talk to us, but it’s not their decision,” said L, whose leg shook non-stop in the waiting room.
– ‘A little scary’ –
M entered the office alone, where an ultrasound showed she was approximately eight weeks pregnant — well within the New Mexico legal limit for the pill.
At the clinic, she listened to detailed instructions and signed documents that were placed in a fuchsia-colored folder next to the picture of her ultrasound.
“Now take a pill. When you get home tomorrow, put another four under the upper lip,” the physician assistant explained during a 15-minute consultation.
“You will bleed and feel stomach ache, that’s normal.
“We’ll call you in two days to see how you’re doing.”
At another practice, obstetrician Franz Theard waited with the single tablet of mifepristone, a drug that blocks production of the hormones the uterus needs to sustain the pregnancy.
He also gave her an envelope with instructions, an emergency number, and the four misoprostol pills that promote bleeding.
“It’s a bit scary,” M said as she returned to the waiting room.
“I didn’t take mine [birth control] Pills right, but now we’ve learned our lesson,” she said, squeezing her boyfriend’s arm.
“I’m not doing anything wrong, but when you see people judging, you embarrass them.”
Despite the prospect of another nine hours on the road, L said he wasn’t tired.
“I’m ready to go home and put that in the past.”
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