Last Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) signed the state’s stringent new abortion restrictions into law. In addition to banning abortions after 20 weeks, the law is expected to shutter 90 percent of the state’s abortion clinics by imposing costly new building codes — a result that will likely prevent low-income and rural women from receiving preventative health, family planning, and abortion services. But at least one sector will gain major business from Americans under the new regulations — pharmacies and doctors that provide abortions and cheap abortion-inducing drugs in Mexico.
Joy Diaz of the KUT News radio station in Austin spoke with health care providers on both sides of the border near the isolated, low-income, and mostly Latino community of Laredo, Texas. The town’s only women’s health clinic (which does not perform abortions) has seen an explosion in women seeking family planning in recent years.
“Traditionally, we saw 400 women for family planning,” Dr. Hector Gonzalez told Diaz in an interview. “Last year, we saw 1500 patients.” Gonzalez added that some of those patients were there due to complications stemming from black market abortions.
On the Mexican side of the border, in Nuevo Laredo, the streets are lined with pharmacies that aggressively advertise cheap medicine and doctors’ visits to foreigners. The labor-inducing medicine Cytotec is sold as an abortion drug for $10 per pill without a prescription in the Mexican city. The drug has become so popular among poor women in Laredo that it can also be found at flea markets in the town. Several pharmacists interviewed by Diaz said they expect sales to surge even more as the Texas abortion law takes effect in 90 days. Others warn that young women seeking abortions in Mexico are taking a risk, since many providers follow the bare minimum of safety standards.
Medical tourism is a popular option for poor Texans who can’t get affordable health care in America. Low-income families in the southern town of Brownsville have been sharing their insulin shots and crossing over into Matamoros, Mexico to buy cheaper drugs. That reality failed to persuade Perry to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which would have extended coverage for prescription drugs to 1.5 million low-income Texans.
The medical border crossings died down for a time as drug violence deterred sick Texans from risking the journey, but that violence has recently been on the decline. And with services for the poor and women increasingly hard to come by in Texas, more Americans may find it necessary to make the trek.