Fearful of losing their jobs, homes, and families under the threat of a Trump administration crack down, more and more undocumented immigrants in the Southwest are canceling abortion appointments or waiting weeks longer to get the procedure.
BuzzFeed News spoke to staff at four nonprofit organizations across Texas and New Mexico who say they have seen an uptick in patients canceling, pushing back, or not making it to their appointments over the past few months as ongoing threats of mass raids by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deportations continue to reverberate across local news outlets, communities, and Facebook pages.
“We have seen a wave of people not making it to their appointments and we have correlated it with all this anti-immigrant stuff in the media,” said Áine Brazil, who cofounded New Mexico’s Mariposa Fund, which supports undocumented immigrants seeking reproductive health care. “People coming up from El Paso, Fort Worth, and Southern Texas who are already hundreds and hundreds of miles away and terrified of check points and crossing borders.”
Getting an abortion is already a daunting, difficult process — from taking time off work to drive hundreds of miles, coordinating childcare, finding a place to stay, and, ultimately, scrambling together the funds to pay for all of those necessities plus the procedure. But it can become increasingly more expensive the longer you wait.
For undocumented patients, the experience is even more frightening and challenging when you have to cross state lines knowing ICE officers are being stationed on streets and highways.
Although the waves of ICE operations and arrests that Trump has promised have fallen flat, the fear and anxiety they have brought to immigrant communities have stymied an already vulnerable population's willingness to seek reproductive health care.
In the past few months, Brazil said her organization has recorded that 25% of their patients have expressed fear about raids and checkpoints.
“They will call and say, ‘I’m afraid,’ or, ‘What should I do?’ And it’s a really hard position to tell people to take a risk and know that they are, but people are desperate and they do what they have to do to make it happen,” she said. “But sometimes they don’t make it because the fear is too much.”
Fund Texas Choice, which serves about 30 people per month across Texas, said they had a “significant number” of patients last month who canceled their appointment or who disappeared and were no longer in contact, which is rare given the effort and coordination that goes into securing funding and transportation at one of the state’s remaining 18 abortion clinics.
Texas has been at the crux of the abortion war since a draconian 2013 law, later found unconstitutional, shuttered more than two dozen clinics across the state. It is the country’s largest reproductive health care desert — the state has 10 cities of more than 50,000 residents without an abortion clinic within 100 miles, according to a 2018 study. It also has four of the top five cities where women must travel the farthest, upward of 300 miles, to access care.
On average, the fund’s patients travel 700 miles round trip to get the procedure, said Sarah Lopez, the group’s program coordinator. So scrapping or bailing on an appointment is rare.
“Usually, maybe one or two people will cancel because they don’t need help any more or changed their minds,” Lopez said. “In a few weeks, we had seven people. That was shocking and we have a feeling it’s because people are on high alert.”
The abortion funds say they’ve noticed another disconcerting trend: pregnant women are waiting longer to reach out for help and make appointments, which makes the procedure much more difficult and expensive.
West Fund, located in the battleground border town of El Paso, says that people who have been recently calling to ask for help with their abortions have been farther along in their pregnancies than in the past.
“People on average were 11 weeks pregnant when we started,” said Samantha Romero. “It wasn’t a gradual change, it’s been recent. Now they are calling in their second and third trimester and we’ve heard the same from clinics who serve low-income and immigrant communities that there is this pattern where less people are coming in or coming in later because they’re afraid to seek care.”
Pushing an abortion appointment back a week or two can substantially increase the cost and commitment. Like many states, Texas requires that a person wait 24 hours after their counseling appointment to get their abortion, so rescheduling could prolong the procedure a week or more.
“We’ve seen the cost go from $9,000 to $22,000 for a later-term,” Romero said, adding that the ballooning wait times for immigrants to cross into El Paso have also impacted a person’s ability to get an abortion.
For awhile, Romero said the fund was maxing out its monthly budget because they were having to scramble together hundreds more dollars to help people pay for later-term abortions.
And while living near the border has been challenging, the continued barrage of threats of mass arrests and deportations has further exacerbated residents' fear and anxiety.
For example, Romero said the recent ICE raids have targeted El Paso’s “south side community,” which is near where the city’s Planned Parenthood is located.
“Abortion is already inaccessible here, but traveling to a clinic is an even bigger deal when you have Border Patrol constantly present or local law enforcement able to ask about a person’s immigration status,” she said. “That, plus the shame and stigma that already comes with getting an abortion, it shouldn’t be this way.”