Mexican Pharmacies Seeing Surge in Texas Women Seeking Abortion Pill

JUNE 20, 2016
Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor
More women in Texas are seeking abortion pills from Mexican pharmacies.

Mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol are FDA-approved drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Although Mifeprex was first approved in 2000, a few months ago, the FDA approved a supplemental application for the use of the drug to end a pregnancy through 70 days of gestation. Previously, Mifeprex was not approved to be taken more than 49 days following the woman’s last period.

The updated label also indicates that women can take the medication at a lower dose and with fewer visits to their health care provider. The current approved dosing regimen for Mifeprex is 200 mg taken orally on day 1. Then, 24 to 48 hours later, 800 mcg of misoprostol is taken buccally, and 7 to 14 days later, the patient should follow up with a health care provider.

Previously, a woman would have had to take both doses of drugs at the clinic, plus the follow-up visit. In most states, women were already able to take the drugs at home and through a longer gestation period, but 3 states—Ohio, Texas, and North Dakota—required women to follow the drugs’ exact labeling.

Now, Texas clinics are reporting an increase in medical abortions following the label update to allow women to take the medication at a lower dose and through a longer window of time, NPR reported. Requests for medical abortions at Whole Woman’s Health facilities have increased from 10% of patients to more than 50% of patients. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood told NPR that it saw a 4-fold jump in medical abortions at its 5 clinics in Texas.

There has also been an increase in the number of Texas women traveling to Mexico to buy cheap misoprostol, according to NPR. Although an abortion might cost a woman $500 in Texas, misoprostol costs around $50 in Mexico. In addition, misoprostol is available without a prescription south of the border.

“It’s the 2016 version of the back-alley abortion,” Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, told NPR.

Plus, when women get a medical abortion at a clinic in Texas, they have to get an ultrasound and see the same health care provider for 3 visits, NPR pointed out. As the ultrasound is taking place, the physician must describe what she or he sees to the patient.

Between the cost and logistics of getting a medical abortion at a clinic in Texas, some women are resorting to buying 1 of the abortion drugs in Mexico instead. Aside from the obvious problem of taking only 1 of the 2 drugs typically used to terminate a pregnancy, many women are left without any information on how to take misoprostol.

There are around 200 pharmacies in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico—the city where many South Texas women are going to obtain misoprostol, which is sold under the name Cytotec in Mexico, according to NPR.

“We sold it like hot bread,” a former pharmacy clerk named Roberto Gonzales told NPR. “The girls in Texas came over to buy this treatment—8 to 10 tablets for a pregnancy of 9 weeks. It works the fastest.”

Gonzales told NPR that women would ask him how they should take the drug, and he would “tell them what I’d heard.” He would also warn them that it was dangerous and would often lead to heavy bleeding.

The former pharmacy worker said the drug’s packaging would sometimes include instructions, but NPR reported that the instructions were only for treating gastric ulcers, since abortions are illegal in Mexico.


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