Project takes fresh look at the changing landscape of abortion rights along the U.S- Mexico border

Published on
July 22, 2022

Before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Southern Texas was already an abortion desert. Shortly before the ruling, the distance between the two closest abortion clinics along Texas’s southern border was about a 12-hour drive, from McAllen to El Paso. At the time, abortion was only permitted in the first six weeks of pregnancy, as outlined in the Texas Senate Bill 8. Now, it is banned entirely. But a short drive south, or a quick walk across the international bridge, brings you to more of a gray area, since abortion is decriminalized in neighboring Mexico.    

The aim of this reporting is to explore the changing reproductive health options available to people in the Rio Grande Valley region, composed of cities and towns both in Southern Texas and Northern Mexico. Regions greatly united in culture, language and economy, but divided by differing levels of limitations on reproductive care and, specifically, abortion. This project will provide an intimate look into the immediate aftermath of the overturn of Roe v. Wade and also the concrete changes and efforts Rio Grande Valley stakeholders are enacting.  

Beyond this, the project will also hone in on what a changing political environment in the Rio Grande Valley means for abortion rights advocacy efforts. Right now, the Rio Grande Valley is seeing the growing predominance of the Republican party — last year the city of McAllen elected its first Republican mayor in more than 20 years. The region is also seeing a growing number of Republican Latinos running for Congress. Since the GOP largely associates itself with anti-abortion policies, and some of its members are poised to be regional leaders, it will be important to focus on what these shifting ideologies mean for reproductive health access in the region.

Ultimately, there are many questions to be answered: First, what are the risks associated with, for example, purchasing abortion pills in Mexico and taking them in the United States, without the supervision of a health care provider? What are the health risks and liabilities associated with this? What options do undocumented people in Texas seeking abortions have? This is considering the numerous immigration checkpoints in the U.S. within the first 100 miles from the border, which make it difficult to move freely without risking deportation. How will the evolving political leanings of the region impact abortion access efforts?  

A major goal for this project for the 2022 National Fellowship is to serve as a resource that acknowledges the multilayered elements that make up reproductive health rights and that explores these changing dynamics. It’s also fundamental that this reporting be available in Spanish — in the Rio Grande Valley, nearly 80% of the population speaks Spanish and nearly 94% are Hispanic/Latino. This project has the potential to reach not only a global audience to inform about initiatives in the Rio Grande Valley, but also to give Valley locals practical and useful news and details about what reproductive health access is available to them.