Over the past 11 months, some members of Tijuana-based feminist organization Colectiva Bloodys y Projects have reported an increase in demand for their services. The organization provides information on at-home medical abortions and how to access medical abortion pills through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Crystal P. Lira, an abortion assistant at Colectiva Bloodys y Projects, told Rest of World that the recent surge in demand, to a great extent, has come from people based in the U.S.
According to abortion assistants at organizations like Colectiva Bloodys, this uptick coincides with the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last June, which had ended previous protections on abortion rights at the federal level. In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to punish abortion as a crime. Verónica Cruz, director of abortion assistance organization Las Libres, told Rest of World her group was now dealing with 200 to 300 calls from the U.S. every day.
Women-led organizations like Colectiva Bloodys, Las Libres, Marea Verde, Matamoros Decide, and Red Necesito Abortar, among others, have provided free abortion assistance to thousands all over the country. Some of these groups also provide remote assistance to people as far afield as Russia or Saudi Arabia. “We still do everything through social media — from sending information to asking for [their] addresses to sending the abortion pills,” said Lira.
These organizations are now coming up with ways to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. residents reaching out to them for help on terminating a pregnancy. Members from each of these groups told Rest of World that their first point of contact is usually Facebook and Instagram, but they then quickly seek to move to platforms they consider safer, such as Signal. Some of these members requested anonymity to protect themselves, the people they assist, and their peers in the U.S.
When dealing with those seeking help from the U.S., assistants are increasingly wary of platforms owned by Meta, according to most of the organizations Rest of World spoke to. Ninde MolRe, a member of Abortistas Mx, cited a case from last year: A mother and a daughter in Nebraska — where abortion is banned 20 weeks after conception — were charged with several felonies, some of which were related to medical abortion, after the police obtained incriminating Facebook messages. There are concerns that even third-party apps like period trackers can potentially be used as evidence against abortion seekers or providers in some states.
Digital safety protocols and visibility vary from one organization to the next. A member of an abortion-companion network along the U.S.-Mexico border, who spoke to Rest of World under condition of anonymity, said online safety was the biggest worry for their sister organizations in Texas. “Getting the medication through to the other side of the border is not that much of a challenge,” she said. “What they have to be very cautious about is online apps.”
“If someone from a state that has a full ban on abortion, like Texas or Ohio, reaches out to us, we don’t talk through WhatsApp with them,” Marcela Castro Flores, a member and spokesperson at Marea Verde Chihuahua, told Rest of World. She declined to state which platform they use instead, but said it was a messaging system with end-to-end encryption that’s not owned by Meta.
To provide assistance at a distance, members go through training programs designed by the organizations when they join. Following the World Health Organization’s publicly available guidelines on abortion care, these continuously updated programs teach safe abortion methods, how to handle medical complications remotely, and how to protect the online privacy of both assistants and those conducting an abortion. Another part of the training focuses on how to navigate the shifting moderation landscape of the social media platforms they use. Some of the recent workshops relate specifically to avoiding shadow bans on Facebook, an abortion companion and member of Marea Verde Chihuahua told Rest of World, speaking anonymously to protect her job.
Las Libres has trained about 50 networks of women in the U.S. to replicate their abortion assistance model stateside. “A year ago, there was a lot of fear in the U.S., but now we know there are many abortion networks in the U.S. and that they have been multiplying,” said Cruz. However, pregnant people from the U.S. continue to reach out to Mexican networks because some still face challenges accessing abortion care. The reasons include people’s immigration status, risk of legal prosecution when crossing states with different abortion regulations, misinformation regarding self-managed abortions, and financial situations that make it difficult to pay medical bills, abortion networks told Rest of World.
Those reaching out from the U.S. seek the aid that is accessible to Mexicans getting an abortion, such as basic medical information, medical abortion pills, and psychological and emotional support. They are also interested in guidance on where along the U.S.-Mexico border they might be able to obtain affordable care. “Some of these women face paying over $1,500 for an abortion in states like California or New York, where abortions are still legal,” said Castro Flores. “We provide an option for free by supplying the medication and proper, scientific-based companionship.”