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Gulf Residents Are Already Turning to DIY Abortions

(Image: Pills drop, woman silhouette via Shutterstock)

With the closures of a number of abortion clinics in Texas, the potential closure of clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge due to the latest doctor admitting privileges law, and a pending identical law being debated in the court in Alabama that could close the clinic in Mobile, the entirety of abortion availability to the pregnant people in the Gulf Coast region is ebbing away.

Even though many of the bills have not yet been fully enforced, already due to previous restrictions mandating multiple clinic visits and waiting periods, those who want abortions are finding them harder to obtain. The cost of the procedure, travel expenses including gas, hotels, child care and other incidental costs, combined with docked pay from taking time off of work, are creating a financial barrier that is already putting abortion out of reach for many.

Unsurprisingly, many women are taking abortion back into their own hands, just as they did prior to the procedure becoming legal.

Two articles published last week have noted a surge in self-induced abortions (DIY abortions), each looking at a different low access area in the Gulf. That Texas was the first to experience this issue isn’t shocking, considering the rapidity with which restrictions passed and clinics closed, the massive amounts of poverty in the state, and the lack of access to health care many in the community face.

According to the Atlantic, the surge of pregnant people turning to misoprostol is in many ways a flashback to the Latin American and Hispanic, Catholic-dominated countries where because abortion is illegal in all circumstances, women and girls were forced to secretly induce abortions as their own response to unwanted fertility. But what was once readily available at flea markets has mostly disappeared thanks to police intervention, something that happened only after the clinics were shut down, too.

When it can be found, it can be improperly dosed, or counterfeit drugs may be obtained instead of the real medicine, making it more dangerous than it otherwise needs to be (when the right drug is used in the right dose the process is very safe, which is why groups like Women on the Waves make sure to have directions for identifying real pills and how to properly dose them available on their website). Yet, authorities aren’t just closing clinics and blocking access to obtaining drugs, but blocking providers from offering information to those who are interested.

“[S]trict internal clinic protocol bars [Luzevlia] Carreon and other employees at Whole Women’s Health from answering questions about miso and abortion,” writes Erica Hellerstein. “And the drug’s other distribution channels are similarly mum.”

In Louisiana clinics haven’t closed yet, but already pregnant people are seeking pills out on the street. The idea is puzzling to many, who wonder why pregnant people don’t just use clinics since they are there. Yet the high cost, waiting periods and fear of those who are outside the clinic doors trying to harass them as they go in all combine to make some women just prefer to seek out the drugs and try to induce an abortion quietly and privately, out of the public eye, in their own time and with less expense involved.

“There are many reasons women seek abortions outside a clinic setting,” Jessie Nieblas of the New Orleans Abortion Fund told The Times Picyune. “[A]nd all are related to stigma and to anti-choice activities. The primary reason is the high cost of a legal abortion. These costs start adding up before the procedure even happens, at the mandatory ultrasound and counseling that must be performed 24 hours before the abortion. Because the physician (not a social worker, nurse, or other health care provider) has to provide much of the initial counseling, the clinic must compensate a physician’s time, while the woman has to take two days off work, find childcare for two days, etc. Then, the actual abortion is quite expensive, again, because of onerous regulations that drive up the cost of abortion health care. Many women simply cannot afford an abortion in a clinic setting, even with the help of the New Orleans Abortion Fund.”

Are DIY abortions becoming the procedure of choice in the Gulf? It would appear so, and that will only grow if the states’ TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are allowed to go into effect causing more clinics to shut down. The less clinics, the bigger the overflow and the longer the wait as providers are unable to keep up with patients, leaving many seeking out other remedies even if they would prefer to do it in a clinic setting, knowing that what they really want is simply to not be pregnant as soon as possible.

Bottlenecking patients, as clinic closures are meant to do, is done with the assumption that if they have to wait long enough, the pregnant people will just give birth, either having become resigned to the situation or running out of legal options. Maybe some of them will. However, it is far more likely that they will seek to end the pregnancy as quickly as possible, via legal means or not.

Welcome to the post-Roe world, where your options are wait in line for a legal abortion or take the procedure into your own hands.