Meet the Mexican Activist Helping Women in the United States Access Abortion Pills

It was 2000 and Verónica Cruz was infuriated by abortion restrictions for rape victims in her conservative central Mexican state of Guanajuato. In defiance, Cruz formed Las Libres, the Free People, to provide safe abortions to those in need.

That pioneering work by Cruz, now 50, has grown into a binational network of agencies to help women and girls who want to end their pregnancies, primarily with medical abortions. Now, Cruz’s team is seeing a spike in appeals from Texans and women across the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24.

Half of the calls to Las Libres now come from Texas, where since September a state law restricts abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy. Overall, calls to Las Libres have increased from 10 to 100 per day.

“It’s super, super, super important that all women in the United States know that there are safe medical abortions available in your home without medical supervision,” Cruz said.

“It’s accessible to all people,” Cruz said in a video call. Safe medical abortions are detailed by the World Health Organization, she added. “It’s not right to put a woman’s life at risk” by using unsafe abortion methods, Cruz said.

Cruz called the sudden cancellation of abortion procedures “brutal” for American women. She took calls from Texas to Mississippi, Oklahoma to Florida.

Mifepristone is one of the drugs used to induce abortion along with misoprostol. Both can be obtained at Mexican pharmacies. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortions in 2021. This allowed Las Libres to expand its work.

Medical abortions are even easier in Mexico because one of the two drugs used, misoprostol, does not require a prescription. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers. Generic versions are sold for as low as $34 a box in Mexico. It can be used alone for abortions, Cruz said. But they donated supplies of misoprostol and mifepristone.

Medical abortions accounted for more than half of all abortions in 2020 in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization.

“It can’t stay like this”

Cruz won’t elaborate on how women in the United States obtain misoprostol and mifepristone from her organization and other members of the Mexican agency network. She says, “We use many creative forms.

Some Texan women simply cross the border and buy the drugs from pharmacies near international bridges in border towns. They call Las Libres for advice on the termination process, Cruz said. Others are put in touch with another group in Monterrey that helps women have abortions.

Las Libres consists of 10 paid employees who are also willing to serve as companions, or acompañantas, to counsel other women. There are language barriers, but the team uses translation apps to facilitate communications.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, Cruz said she’s been impressed by calls from people in the United States who say, “I can help.” It can’t stay that way. What do you need ?

Financial donations on her website also increased, although she said they were too busy to count the increase.

Despite heavy migration from the Mexican state of Guanajuato to northern Texas, about 11 hours away, Cruz doesn’t think many Texans or other American residents calling Las Libres are immigrants. They don’t keep any information about who’s calling, as another layer of privacy, but most only speak English and aren’t bilingual, indicating they’re probably not Latin American immigrants.

Verónica Cruz (left), a leader of Las Libres, chats with Vanessa Jiménez, an activist from...
Verónica Cruz (left), a leader of Las Libres, chats with Vanessa Jiménez, an activist from Necesito Abortar in Monterrey, Mexico.(CORTESIA PAULA MONACO)

In Monterrey, Mexico, Sandra Cardona, leader of the group Necesito Abortar (I need an abortion), stressed that her network follows the protocols of the two-drug regimen established by the World Health Organization. And calls are mounting to the group based in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon.

“I see so much fear for what could happen to our friends in Texas and it’s disturbing,” Cardona said. “One of them said that when the [Texas] law passed last year from then in just one month, “I will be a criminal”.

Cardona tried to console the woman.

In the Mexican border state of Chihuahua, Laura Dorado collaborates with groups in Mexico and the United States. Dorado, a lawyer, is co-founder of Red Aborto Seguro Chihuahua, the Chihuahua Safe Abortion Network.

“I can tell you that there are drug supply banks in the United States and the majority are from Mexico,” Dorado said.

Legal landscape

Texas and federal abortion law are still fluid. So much so that Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said on Friday, “The state of play is changing from hour to hour.”

A state law known as Senate Bill 8 took effect Sept. 1, making it illegal to “aid or abet” an abortion in Texas after a heartbeat is detected. Another state law, SB 4, went into effect in December, banning medical abortion after seven weeks.

In April, a Rio Grande City woman was charged with murder for “voluntary abortion”. The criminal charges were later dropped, after an outcry and widespread publicity. “We expect to see similar criminal prosecutions in Texas and elsewhere,” Romero said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency. It would allow women to take medical abortion pills and override state laws that make abortions illegal, Northup said Friday. Women could get the pills via telemedicine from other states or by mail.

Legal hurdles are high to sue reproductive rights groups in Mexico, India and the Netherlands. “It’s kind of a new frontier for the pro-life movement and how we deal with these abortion-inducing drugs that are mailed or shipped into our state,” said Rebecca Parma, senior legislative associate at Texas Right to Life. “We want these abortion providers and activists to be held accountable because they provide drugs that are currently illegal in Texas with Roe v. Wade overturned.”

Parma said his organization wants the issue to be addressed in the next legislative session.

SB 4 didn’t go far enough, Parma said. It “clarified” that abortion drugs could not be mailed or couriered, she said, but that does not extend to “foreign actors”.

At the Texas Alliance for Life, executive director Joe Pojman said his group would push the issue further in the 2024 presidential elections. Mailing or using couriers to deliver misoprostol and mifepristone is illegal, but it does not not see the extradition of a foreigner happening.

“It’s still illegal,” Pojman said. “It’s still a criminal offence. But there is no way to extradite someone from Mexico or the Netherlands to stand trial in Texas unless the Biden administration takes action.

Pojman doesn’t see that happening with Team Biden, given the president’s stance on Roe versus Wade.

Back in Guanajuato, Cruz’s perseverance is obvious when she talks about the beginnings of the formation of Las Libres. The former community organizer in rural areas was able to get crucial support from doctors and lawyers. She also consulted the WHO.

“When they saw that women and girls who were victims of rape were forced to continue their pregnancies, people got so angry, so angry,” she said.

From there, Mexican women would contact the group saying they weren’t rape victims but just couldn’t live through their pregnancy, she said. “We said it’s the same medical process whether you’re a rape victim or not,” she recalled. Thus, they expanded by guaranteeing the right to a safe abortion.

Does she fear a repression against her or her team?

No, comes the quick answer. With the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico last September, groups like hers have more freedom and protection, she said.

“In this case, we have a better legal advantage and more legal protection by being in Mexico,” Cruz said. “We don’t have a strong alliance with any particular organization in the United States for obvious reasons. With a few smaller ones, but they always ask that we be completely confidential with their names.

Texas Supreme Court allows enforcement of 1925 abortion ban dropped in Roe v. Wade
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