As abortion restrictions continue to grip the country more and more tightly, we’re seeing a strategy used by women in Latin America – where abortion is, with a few exceptions, illegal – coming into use here: Misoprostol, a pill FDA-approved to treat ulcers that can, if used correctly, safely induce an early abortion. The Atlantic reports:
As policies restricting access to abortion roll out in Texas and elsewhere, the use of miso is quickly becoming a part of this country’s story. It has already made its way into the black market here in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, where abortion restrictions are tightening, and it is likely to continue its trajectory if anti-abortion legislation does not ease up and clinics continue to be closed.
Over the past several years, dozens of states have restricted abortions. Since 2011, at least 73 abortion clinics in the nation have shut down or stopped providing services; and more than 200 abortion restrictions were legislated throughout the nation. Despite the passage of Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, states with pro-life politicians are still gunning to reverse the ruling—in the words of Rick Perry in 2012, “my goal is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past.”
Yet these myriad restrictions on women and abortion providers have set the stage for women to skirt medical institutions to take charge of their own health. A similar story has already been written in many countries around the world, where pro-life legislation has inspired similarly creative solutions. Today, throughout Texas—from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso—miso’s story is being drafted anew. And in this narrative, it is Latin America that has answers for the United States.
I wrote my Masters’ thesis in public health on the use of misoprostol in my home country, Venezuela – where abortion is illegal – and the ways it has actually added a measure of safety to what has historically been a fairly dangerous and underground procedure, especially for poor women. That was in 2008, and never in my wildest dreams did I expect that the information I learned then would be so relevant in the context of national reproductive health work in the United States just a few years later. Of course, in my work around that same time with immigrant women in the Rio Grande Valley, the use of misoprostol was already fairly common among low-income immigrant women who couldn’t afford clinic rates and brought knowledge about miso with them from back home, and even back then several cases of immigrant women around the country who were criminalized for its use had come to the attention of those of us working on reproductive justice issues with immigrant women.
Now, in the United States, abortion access is increasingly limited. With clinic closures, increased waiting periods, and a myriad of barriers, low-income folks trying to get access to a safe abortion in Texas are increasingly looking for different, cheaper options.
Verónica is a queer immigrant activist, writer, artist, and rabble-rouser.