Illegal Market for Medication Abortion Drugs Thrives Along Texas-Mexico Border

July 15, 2013 — There is a thriving black market for abortion-inducing drugs in rural areas along the Texas-Mexico border, which could see more demand as the state enacts additional abortion restrictions (HB 2), Bloomberg reports.

Women and physicians in Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley -- one of the nation's poorest regions -- reported in interviews with Bloomberg that flea markets in the area illegally sell the drugs to women who cannot afford abortion services at a clinic, are deterred by state restrictions or lost access to family planning because of state 2011 budget cuts.

The pills -- which are sold legally under the brand name Cytotec to prevent stomach ulcers and can also induce abortion -- require a prescription in the U.S. but are sold in Mexico without a prescription (Deprez, Bloomberg, 7/11). In addition to buying the pills at flea markets in the U.S., women cross the border to buy the drugs in Mexico, where pharmacies sell the medication for $35 for a 28-pill box of the generic version and $175 for Cytotec (Eckholm, New York Times, 7/13).

According to Bloomberg, medication abortion, when properly administered, is safe and 92% to 95% effective. However, women who buy the drugs on the black market often are not instructed on how to properly use them.

Health care providers in the area said they have seen an increase in the number of women experiencing incomplete abortions and bleeding after taking the drugs without supervision.

Connection to Legislative Actions

According to a study from the University of Texas-Austin's Texas Policy Evaluation Project, the state's 2011 budget cuts to family planning already have disproportionately affected women in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and shut down 56 of the state's 288 clinics. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates that during 2014 and 2015, low-income women would give birth to an additional 24,000 infants as a result of the cuts. Some of the funding has since been restored, but advocates said it still falls short (Bloomberg, 7/11).

Last week, the state Senate gave final approval to one of nation's strictest antiabortion-rights measures, which could close most Texas clinics, including the two in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, thus further limiting women's options. The bill, supported by Gov. Rick Perry (R), would require abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards designed for ambulatory surgical centers, ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and require that medication abortion be administered at a surgical center and at a dosage that exceeds what doctors normally use (New York Times, 7/13).