At an open-air flea market outside McAllen, Texas (BEESTX), near the Mexican border, shoppers can buy a goat and get their car windows tinted. Tables with handwritten signs touting Viagra (MDPSVIAG) are stocked with herbal remedies promising to burn fat and boost breast size. You can also find pills to end a pregnancy.
Bazaars like this have become home to a black market where women too poor to afford an abortion at a clinic or deterred by state mandates such as a 24-hour waiting period can buy drugs to induce a miscarriage on their own, a dozen area residents and doctors said in interviews.
Hundreds of miles north in Austin, the capital, lawmakers may inadvertently increase this illegal trade. Rules set to pass as soon as this week might result in the closing of most, if not all, abortion facilities in the state. If the law — promoted as a way to improve women’s health — makes legal abortion unavailable in Texas, more women may turn to markets such as the one near McAllen and risk their lives.
“You’d be amazed at how many people, young people, are taking those pills,” said Erlinda Dasquez, a 29-year-old mother of four who has done so herself. “I probably know 12 to 20 people who have done this. My cousin just went to the flea market a few months ago.”
Women in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, along the southeastern border with Mexico, said it’s already harder for them to control their reproductive lives since the state cut funding for birth control in 2011.
In the past few years, health-care providers in the valley, one of the state and nation’s poorest regions, have seen an increasing number of women suffering from incomplete abortions and bleeding after taking drugs unsupervised, they said.
The pills, which are known by the brand name Cytotec and require a prescription in the U.S., are designed to prevent stomach ulcers. They can also induce abortion.
Until recently, obtaining them meant a trip across the border to Mexican towns such as Nuevo Progreso, where pharmacies can legally sell them without a prescription.
Underground imports have brought the trade stateside. Whether it’s the actual Pfizer Inc. (PFE) medication or a generic, side effects include premature birth and uterine rupture. The drug isn’t typically on display at flea markets. All you need to do is ask, residents said.
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