Texas Women Are Already Getting 'Flea Market Abortions'

Allie Jones
The Atlantic Wire
Texas Women Are Already Getting 'Flea Market Abortions'

While the Texas legislature debates some of the strictest abortion regulation in the country, low-income women in the state are already turning to "flea market" abortions, available just north of the Mexican border. The bill would close almost all of the abortion clinics in the state, severely limiting access for women. But local community health instructor Paula Saldana told Bloomberg News' Esmé E. Deprez, "Only people with money go to the clinics." Should the bill pass (and it very likely will), "flea market" abortions, which involve taking a stomach ulcer drug to induce a miscarriage, could become way more prevalent.

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Texas women in the lower Rio Grande Valley have been illegally purchasing Cytotec, a stomach ulcer drug that can also induce a miscarriage, at an open-air bazaar in McAllen, Texas. Cost is the main motivator for using the drug. Women can buy Cytotec for about $40, while a pharmaceutical abortion at the nearest clinic costs $550. Texas's 24-hour waiting period for an abortion prices many women out of traveling to a clinic. The state's decreased funding for birth control (as of 2011) has also contributed to the prevalence of the drug. 

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Erlinda Dasquez is a mother of four who has taken Cytotec before. She told Bloomberg News, 

"You’d be amazed at how many people, young people, are taking those pills. I probably know 12 to 20 people who have done this. My cousin just went to the flea market a few months ago."

Cytotec is not always effective in inducing an miscarriage. Often, women can't stop bleeding after taking the pills. Dasquez bled for a month. William West, a doctor at a McAllen health clinic, says he sees women daily who have taken Cytotec or something like it. Many are still pregnant. 

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If the Texas abortion bill passes, only five clinics will be left in the state. Many more women will be unable to afford legal abortions due to travel — the expense, not to mention time away from work and family, is more than a little hindrance. Cytotec may become the only feasible option.

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And that's not just true for Texas women. Mexico has few abortion clinics, because abortion is only legal in Mexico City, which is a far and expensive trip for most. And that's why Mexican women, too, depend on abortion clinics in Texas. An El Paso clinic that would close if the abortion bill passes currently gets 30 percent of its patients from Mexico.

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The pro-choice movement has long argued that abortion restriction only leads to illegal, unsafe abortions. The Texas legislature may prove them right. But some illegal, unsafe abortions are already happening now.