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Featured Image Credit: Nancy Cárdenas Peña/Shutterstock
Earlier this week, the world was rocked when a draft majority opinion was leaked, showing the US Supreme Court planned to overturn Roe v. Wade - the milestone 1973 legislation which guarantees women the right to abort up until foetal viability.
But some women have been living that reality for many years already - like in Texas, where abortion is illegal after six weeks or after ‘foetal activity’ is detected (in some cases before a woman even realises she is pregnant).
Thanks to the Senate Bill 8 (SB8), Texan women have had to tread carefully around this strict abortion law just to gain control of their reproductive health, often taking matters into their own hands.
Women like Nancy Cárdenas Peña.
Nancy, 31, from the Rio Grande Valley, fell pregnant and decided to have a termination during a difficult relationship.
“The circumstances around the decision of why I was getting [an abortion] was because I was escaping a relationship that was not so great," she tells Tyla.
“But I am forever grateful that I had that abortion because I cannot imagine still being in that same space.”
Due to strict reproductive laws in Texas, Nancy chose to induce her own termination without a medical practitioner overseeing her care.
Known in the UK as a ‘medical abortion’, the procedure usually includes taking a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol to end a pregnancy.
Despite choosing not to attend a clinic to undertake the procedure, Nancy, who now works as a director of policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, says she is lucky she had the knowledge and access to the online resources which allowed her to have a 'safe' termination given the circumstances.
“For a lot of people, medication abortion is just an easier alternative, and that was the case for me. I wanted to have something that was much more private, so I definitely chose the medication abortion route.”
Nancy was unable to explain how exactly she got a hold of the medication for legal reasons, but she does add: “It wasn’t particularly difficult for me to obtain the medication abortion but I’m also a person who knows where the resources are, knows where the information is.”
Although the experience was, of course, a gruelling process, Nancy tells us: “I had the usual side-effects which was a lot of cramping and heavy bleeding, but honestly there were no irregular complications towards what I was already expecting. You just have to take some time and rest afterwards."
Although the decision to end her pregnancy herself was an autonomous one, Nancy did admit that she was 'completely alone' in the matter.
“It was in a situation where I was completely alone, even though that was the private decision that I wanted to take.”
She did know, however, “that I could reach out to specific individuals about this if I ever needed the help. It was not the most pleasant experience, of course, but it was definitely something that I preferred and I probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Nancy fears that if women can’t access the abortion care they deserve on behalf of the state, they will either be forced to become parents or inevitably find a way to carry out the procedure themselves.
“I think if people have access to the information and the resources, medication abortion is actually a pretty safe procedure.
“I actually think the complications around medication abortion are incredibly small but the opposition likes to bring up that ‘self-managed abortion is such a scary reality to navigate’ when actually a lot of other states allow women to take medication abortion in the comfort of their own homes.”
"Sarah Shaw, Head of Advocacy at MSI Reproductive Choices agrees, explaining that peer-reviewed studies prove that self-managed abortion is safe, effective, and often preferred. But she tells Tyla that this possible reality of the US in a post-Roe v. Wade state would be damaging.
“We are devastated to see that the US, previously a global leader in women’s health and rights, might soon strip away the reproductive rights of tens of millions of American women. Abortion is essential healthcare and if this decision stands it would erode a myriad of other rights that women have fought tirelessly to secure over the last several decades.
“The impact [of rolling back Roe v. Wade] would be disastrous – not only in terms of limiting women’s access to abortion in the US but the long-term effect it has on their lives and their futures,” Sarah told us.
“It’s almost certain that the US will see unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality rates increase dramatically, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable. In fact, research from Duke University recently estimated that if Roe were overturned, the United States would see a 21 percent increase in maternal deaths overall and 31 per cent for women of colour. That echoes what we see in countries with restrictive abortion laws, where unsafe abortion remains a major cause of pregnancy-related death.”
However, Sarah notes that “over the past three decades, increasing numbers of women around the world have self-managed their own abortions.
"The availability of medical abortion pills has made a significant impact in reducing deaths from unsafe abortion. Evidence suggests that with the right advice and support, this is a safe option."
Although Nancy oversaw her own medical abortion, she admitted that “medication abortion isn’t the answer to all of our abortion needs.
“Some people actually really do need a medical provider overseeing their abortion procedure, some people really need to go into a clinic for a variety of different reasons.
“Even though medication abortion is something that’s incredibly life-saving when it comes to people who are trying to obtain abortion care, we still need to talk about how we’re going to sustain the infrastructure to have in-clinic abortion care,” she explained.
“Court decisions come and go… But I like to preface conversations by saying that we need all of our options, not just a couple…And I’m not going to take crumbs from the state! We deserve as much information and resources as we can get.”
Nancy also explained how the current circumstances where she lives, between the border of Texas and Mexico, are already “incredibly hostile”, especially in the wake of the post-Roe v. Wade laws there.
“It’s a hostile state and it’s not an understatement to say that what we see here affects the rest of the United States because after SB8 we started to see copycat similar types of legislation in other states.”
“So, we have a very uphill battle working here but I think there’s this perception that we’re going to give up…But I will tell you this,” she says. “We’ve been in this situation before, we had the Roe v. Wade court decision, we’ve been in terrible situations before,” and she and the rest of her team at the organisation aren’t giving up should the laws be overturned.
“We don’t have any options. We are really, really tough here in Texas, we’ve had these conditions for a while so giving up is just not an option. It’s not.”