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Arizona-Sonora abortion laws create potential cross-border pro-life zone

The Mexican state bordering Arizona has prohibited most abortions, effectively creating a cross-border pro-life zone in the southwest region

Stock image of young woman taking pill
Stock image of young woman taking pill | Shutterstock

April 19, 2024 9:09am

Updated: April 19, 2024 9:19am

The Mexican state bordering Arizona has prohibited most abortions, effectively creating a cross-border pro-life zone in the southwest region.

Last week, Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 law prohibiting most abortions from the moment of conception was constitutional and could be enforced by law enforcement authorities.

The new restrictions bring the current abortion climate into closer focus since, for many years, Mexican women have endured pro-life laws with few exceptions just south of the border. As a result, many Mexican women would cross the border temporarily into Arizona to evade tough abortion restrictions in Sonora.

But that may be changing with the Arizona Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

“Because we are on the border with the United States, what happens there affects us,” Leticia Burgos Ochoa, a pro-choice activist and former Sonoran senator, told NBC Latino. 

According to Ochoa, crossing the border into Arizona to get safe, legal abortions was an option many relied upon.

“Before, those who had the financial opportunity did not hesitate to go to the United States to have the care that is required,” Ochoa said. “Now, we have more demand for assistance from the United States.” 

The 1864 law, which can now be enforced by Arizona authorities could prohibit abortions from the time of conception.

As a result some Arizona women and pro-choice activists are already discussing alternatives such as California, which still has fewer restrictions.

“Under California law, anyone in California who is pregnant has a legal right to choose to have an abortion before viability,” says the official website for the state government. “A pregnancy becomes viable when a doctor determines that the fetus could live outside the uterus without extreme medical measures. You can also have an abortion in California at any time to protect your life or health.”

Still, the distance from Phoenix, Arizona’s state capital and highest populated city to the California border is 568 miles.  

A closer look at abortion laws in Mexico reveal a parallel shift toward pro-life philosophy along with the U.S. Much like the federalist scheme adopted from the Supreme Court’s recent 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the laws vary state by state.

Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion nationwide in September, which was hailed as a victory by Latin America’s pro-choice “green wave” movement.

But 20 of the country’s 32 states continue to prohibit elective abortions in the first trimester. Once Arizona’s 1864 law takes effect, abortion will be effectively banned along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Four of the six Mexican states along the border including Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sonora, and Tamaulipas have imposed tough restrictions creating what the Arizona Republic called, an “abortion desert.”

That report said that the state’s Flagstaff Planned Parenthood clinic stopped providing abortion services in June 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving only three other such clinics in from the agency operational in the entire state.

As a result, NBC reports that some American women are now crossing the border to obtain misoprostol, the abortive drug which is sold over the counter there because it also used to treat stomach ulcers. 

Already in Sonora, some women have created a type of underground railroad to get misoprostol to both American and Mexican women despite the state’s tough restrictions.

As a result, some pharmacies have raised the price of the drug.

One such organizer, Andrea Sánchez, who works with a Sonora-based abortion network called “Aborto Seguro Sonora,” told NBC that some pharmacists are selling the drug on the black market at higher prices.

“We have heard of women who are sold a dose of no more than four misoprostol pills for 5,000 ($300) or 6,000 pesos ($360) and with that dose they generally will not achieve a successful abortion,” Sánchez told NBC. “The serious thing is that women’s vulnerability is being abused, the situation they are going through, but also that they are playing with women’s health.”   

It is currently unknown whether or not Arizona’s 1864 ban will pass after the upcoming election. Pro-life activists in the state claim they have enough signatures to push for a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

If such an amendment appeared on the ballot, it would allow voters to decide whether abortion is a “fundamental right,” which was the standard adopted by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. That standard offers the highest level of constitutional protection for a right.

The fundamental right was lowered in 1992 after the Court revisited Roe in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast her swing vote, preserving abortion as a “due process liberty interest.”

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.