When 30-year-old “F” found out she was pregnant with her eighth child, all she wanted to do was cry.
As a housewife dependent on her husband’s income, she tormented herself for three weeks, but always came to the same conclusion: “I can’t have this child.”
But then a second problem hit her.
F’s home state of Texas recently made it much harder to get an abortion, one of several conservative parts of the United States where the political tide has turned against the procedure – despite broad support for abortion rights among the American public.
A new law bans nearly all abortions at six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant — meaning an abortion in Texas often means traveling abroad.
This will be the reality for millions more women after Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down national rights to abortion and allowed states to enact strict restrictions or outright bans.
It’s a relatively short drive for F – 45 minutes from her home in El Paso is the small town of Santa Teresa, New Mexico, where the Women’s Clinic for Reproductive Health has operated under the state’s more liberal laws since 2015.
– Attacks –
Some have traveled much further.
“The hardest part for me was figuring out how to get here,” says Ehrliche, a 35-year-old engineer who traveled more than 650 miles from Dallas on a trip that ended in a cab ride.
“I had the taxi driver drop me off at the gas station down the street. And then I kind of walked here so no one would know where I was going.”
Honoree, who is in a stable relationship and says she doesn’t want children yet for professional reasons, has good reason to be cautious.
New Texas law allows individuals to sue anyone involved in an abortion — no matter how superficial. This includes not only the treating doctor or nurse, but also the Uber driver who takes the woman to the clinic.
“They don’t make it easy for you,” says Emily, a 35-year-old yoga teacher who doesn’t want to be a mother.
“You’re worried someone will attack you outside the clinic or some lunatic will come in with a gun.”
– ‘How many weeks?’ –
The protesters gathering in front of the clinic make owner Dr. Franz Theard don’t worry.
The 73-year-old obstetrician has been performing abortions since the 1980s; When he started, it was amid a wave of violent attacks across the United States that killed or wounded doctors.
“We were very fortunate that the state of New Mexico has very liberal laws,” he told AFP.
“We have certification for everything. But they don’t hunt us every day.
“We have to file reports in Texas, we have to file a report on each patient every month.”
Theard no longer performs surgical abortions and only prescribes birth control pills: one tablet of mifepristone, which prevents the pregnancy from progressing, and four tablets of misoprostol the next day to induce bleeding.
In the waiting room, assistant Rocio Negrete takes calls from potential patients.
“How many weeks have you been?” She asks. “We have appointments but we can only see you if it’s by week 10.”
Surgical abortions are possible later in pregnancy in New Mexico, but birth control pills are only legal up to about 10 weeks.
Negrete says she’s taking more and more calls from people out of state.
But some women, out of fear or for economic reasons — the procedure costs $700 — cross another line in search of alternatives.
– ‘It is exhausting’ –
A half-hour drive south brings you to the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, where a box of 28 misoprostol tablets — labeled as an anti-ulcer treatment — can be found in many pharmacies for between $20 and $50.
Mifepristone is harder to come by, but AFP found it.
“Women buy this and don’t know how to take it,” said a pharmacist in Ciudad Juarez, holding a box of misoprostol.
“It’s a danger, they can bleed, so it’s better to see a doctor.”
Back in Santa Teresa, all the women a reporter spoke to said it was vital that legal abortions continued.
“If a woman wants to have an abortion, she will have one,” Ehrliche said.
“There’s going to be all kinds of illegal things that women can potentially kill themselves doing because there’s no one to support them and there’s no place they can go that’s safe to do something about it.”
“It is exhausting. Honestly, it doesn’t make sense that in this age – the year 2022 – we can’t make our own free choices about what we want to do.”
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