“Just send us an email. Or knock directly on the door of our house.” There’s only one rule: “Men can’t come in.” Women who need an abortion “can come alone or accompanied by mothers, sisters, friends. But men aren’t allowed inside.” Sandra Cardona founded the group Necesito Abortar (“I need to have an abortion”) in 2016 in the city of Guadalupe, now effectively a suburb of Monterrey, the state capital of Nuevo León.
Even though in September the Supreme Court ruled that having an abortion in Mexico is no longer a crime, in this state on the U.S. border the termination of pregnancy is still only allowed in cases of rape or a risk to the woman’s health, under penalty of a sentence of up to one year in prison. The states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas have even heavier maximum sentences: five years, while Sonora has six years.
In northern Mexico today, only the states of Baja California and Coahuila allow terminating a pregnancy without facing criminal prosecution.
It all started on Facebook, she tells us, and the goal was to give information and assistance to those who wanted to terminate their pregnancies. She did not expect that in just a few years, she would get to help over 20,000 women.
Above all, she never thought she would have to assist U.S. citizens, as she has done since Texas banned abortion in September 2021 and the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 24, 2022, overturned the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that guaranteed constitutional access to voluntary termination of pregnancy in all fifty states. We spoke with her early in the morning on November 25.
Are there really so many U.S. women turning to you now?
On average, since we opened the “house” – a place to come to have a safe abortion via medication, away from the social stigma that accompanies the termination of pregnancy in a country like Mexico – we have been contacted by U.S. women and assisted them once per month. Those who came to us were mainly Mexican or migrant women. But in the last two years, the number of women from the U.S. has increased significantly. Nowadays, here in Nuevo León, there are at least five or six women coming from the United States every week.
Aren’t you afraid to operate in such dangerous places like the northern states of Mexico, especially for women?
In the last two years we have even started working in Ciudad Juárez, on the border with Texas, despite the risks involved in organizing and especially taking to the streets in what is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman.
But our role today forces us to live with fear. I’m saying “live with it” because it’s impossible not to experience it. What really surprised us is the fact that the threats against our activists have increased since we started helping U.S. women. It’s clear that our “openness” has been frowned upon not only by criminal groups but also by anti-abortion ones.
How does access to the Guadalupe house work? And what are the major difficulties you’re encountering in your work?
After they contact us, we make an appointment and proceed with the abortion: it’s all very simple. The woman arrives in the morning and by early afternoon she can already go home. Here she has everything she needs to terminate the pregnancy in peace.
In the front part of the house is the office where we welcome them; in the back are the rooms with everything they need to relax, books, a stereo, TV, sofas. The most difficult part of our work is definitely outside the house, in society.
What’s the best moment of a typical day at the house?
For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a photo project to collect the photos of the women we help before and after having an abortion. Their expression changes dramatically. When they arrive, they’re tense, worried, scared. When they leave, they’re smiling. Being able to finally get access to their rights is life-changing. And their faces are proof of that, every day.
We’re now at the end of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidential term. What’s the situation like in Mexico today? Has anything changed?
Our network is growing more and more every day. Which is obviously a great achievement for us, but, at the same time, this is bad news, because it means safe abortion is still a problem today. “Disappearances” and femicides are the most notorious problem in Mexico. But the violence in this society shows itself every day in less visible ways, denying basic rights.
In Mexico today, no woman can be prosecuted having an abortion. Or rather, no woman should be. Mexico City is not all of Mexico: further away from the capital, the situation is highly critical. In actual fact, nothing has changed, despite the Supreme Court ruling.
In Mexico, what is the importance of a day like November 25?
The importance that November 25 has come to have across the world is a recognition of the women who fight every day for their rights. And I’m not just talking about women activists. To take just our example: we provide assistance in cases of sexual violence and help women who have decided to have abortions. But they themselves are the ones who are really confronting society head-on.
What is revolutionary in Mexico today is telling your mom and dad that you want to separate from your husband because he is violent. What is revolutionary is telling a friend about your decision to have an abortion. What is revolutionary is having a sister accompanying you on the way to get it done.
I was struck by the drawings and colors that adorn your reports, research and all the material you have on your website that describes what you do. What’s the reason behind this choice?
It’s because here we put rights front and center. And rights are life. And life is full of color. Even in a place like Northern Mexico. Especially in a place like Northern Mexico.