SANTA TERESA, June 26 — A few months after they began dating, 17-year-old “M” discovered she and her 19-year-old boyfriend were pregnant.
There was never any doubt about what they needed to do: “We didn’t want a child,” she said.
With a green light for an abortion in their conservative home state of Texas unlikely, a nine-hour overnight drive to New Mexico was their only practical option.
The couple, who live in San Antonio and requested anonymity because of the political controversy surrounding the procedure, began dating just a month before Texas adopted one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the United States.
The state banned the procedure from the moment a heartbeat can be detected in the womb, or about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
After the Supreme Court’s Friday decision striking down the nationwide right to abortion, nearly half of US states are expected to curtail access to the procedure in some form, with multitudes more women likely to make journeys similar to M’s.
Six weeks is ‘nothing’
Initially, Texas’ new abortion restrictions weren’t something M gave much thought to.
“You don’t think it affects you until you’re standing in those shoes,” she said.
“Six weeks is nothing,” added L, clutching his girlfriend’s hand. “By the time you realise how late you are, it’s been almost six weeks.”
M says she is just too young to be a mother, while her partner, who works in a convenience store, said money is the main impediment.
“I grew up in a poor home, with just my mom, I know what it’s like. I don’t want a son or daughter to go through what I went through, I want to give them better opportunities,” he said.
“In four or five years, maybe, but not now,” he added.
The couple used an online abortion finder that locates the nearest clinic depending on age, place of residence and date of last period.
They quickly ruled out the few options in Texas.
“We didn’t want to take the risk that the heartbeat would be detected and we would be prevented from having an abortion,” said M.
The service also suggested three clinics in Louisiana, to the east of Texas. But none had immediate openings.
Finally it offered the Women’s Reproductive Clinic in New Mexico, a state where abortion is protected by law.
They called and got an appointment for that same Friday. But a round trip of 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) was no small thing.
The couple mapped out a plan: They would leave Thursday at 10:00pm, when L’s shift ended and return Friday morning straight after the consultation.
“New Mexico welcomes you,” read a sky blue billboard on the side of the road as they crossed the state line.
Five minutes later they arrived at the clinic — a small brown commercial building in the town of Santa Teresa, just north of the Mexico border.
As they parked, two protestors shouted at them from the curb to reconsider.
“They tried to come over and talk to us but it’s not their decision to make,” said L, whose leg shook non-stop in the waiting room.
‘A little scary’
M entered the office alone where an ultrasound showed she was around eight weeks pregnant — well within New Mexico’s legal limit for the pill.
At the clinic she listened to detailed instructions and signed documents that were filed next to the image of her ultrasound in a fuchsia folder.
“You’re going to take one pill now. Tomorrow at home you are going to place another four under your upper lip,” explained the medical assistant during a fifteen-minute consultation.
“You are going to bleed and feel abdominal pain, it is normal.
“We will call you in two days to see how you are doing.”
In another office obstetrician Franz Theard was waiting with the single Mifepristone tablet, a medicine that blocks the production of the hormones the uterus needs to maintain the pregnancy.
He also gave her an envelope with instructions, an emergency telephone number and the four Misoprostol pills, which promote bleeding.
“It’s a little scary,” M said as she returned to the waiting room.
“I didn’t take my [birth control] pills properly, but now we’ve learned our lesson,” she said, squeezing her boyfriend’s arm.
“I’m not doing anything wrong, but you see people judging, they make you feel embarrassed.”
Despite the prospect of another nine hours on the road, L said he was not tired.
“I’m ready to go home and put this in the past.” — AFP