Las Libres has decades of experience fighting for abortion rights in Mexico. Post-Roe, they've brought that fight to the U.S.
[Mara Cavallaro is El Tecolote’s Report for America Corps Member who reports on mental health and healthcare inequality in the Latinx community; lead photo: Verónica Cruz, founder of Las Libres, a central Mexico-based reproductive justice organization, speaks in Guanajuato, México, 2014. Photo: Niktehabrc/wikimedia commons]
This June, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there was already an established feminist network prepared to help people with safe, at-home abortions. Las Libres—the central Mexico-based reproductive justice organization led by Verónica Cruz—had been doing this sort of work for decades. In 2000, when the state of Guanajuato passed a bill criminalizing abortion even in cases of rape, the group led protests so influential that the new law was overturned.
Even so, Cruz told El Tecolote, abortion remained inaccessible. “The majority of victims of rape didn’t access legal, free, and safe abortions in public hospitals, or anywhere else.[When they sought reproductive care], their rights were dismissed. They were told they would die, they were told lies, they were sent to adoption centers, they were told it was a sin—that God would punish them…a bunch of nonsense that managed to force women [to remain pregnant].”
In response, Las Libres expanded their political advocacy to direct aid. They began distributing misoprostol—an over-the-counter pill that causes uterine contractions—to people seeking to end their pregnancies, regardless of their circumstances. “Abortion is a human right,” Cruz stressed. “Regardless of beliefs, [and] regardless of restrictions.”
In 2021, after years of feminist mobilization across the country, abortion was decriminalized in Mexico.
But less than a year later, as we know all too well, the U.S. moved in the opposite direction. When Dobbs triggered immediate abortion bans in states like Alabama and Oklahoma, Las Libres had already begun distributing pills to the United States, where misoprostol isn’t available over the counter. Now, Cruz gets anywhere from 10 to 200 requests for help daily from the U.S.—via the group’s website, phone, or Plan C, a database of reproductive health resources.
To meet that need, volunteers drive or fly batches of hundreds of pills across the border, and then mail them to associates in the network, who get them to people in need of support. Volunteers known as acompañantes then share stories about their own experiences with “the pill,” and walk pregnant people through what to expect. It’s a model designed to deliver interpersonal care when social structures fail us. And it has been successful.
In the last five months, Cruz estimates that Las Libres has been able to help some 10,000 women in the U.S. have abortions–mostly in Texas, Georgia, Missisippi, and Oklahoma. Their care kits include misoprostol and mifepristone—the two-step protocol established by the World Health Organization— as well as pads, Tylenol, chocolate, and a card. They’re funded by donations; $30 covers the cost of one free kit.
Ahead of a fundraising event in San Francisco’s Mission District this month, El Tecolote spoke with Verónica Cruz about her work, international solidarity, and how people can support Las Libres. This Q&A was translated from Spanish and has been edited for length and clarity.
Mara Cavallaro: Since its inception, Las Libres has been open about the work it does. You also continue to do interviews, and be a public figure in the movement. Can you speak a bit on that decision to be public despite the risks? How does that decision serve the women you support?
Verónica Cruz: There are three main reasons why we decided to be public. The first is that there is reason to support us. Abortion is a human right; it’s part of the sexual and reproductive rights of women—of people who need abortions…And the right to health is a universal one, regardless of beliefs, and regardless of restrictions.
The second reason [we are public]…has to do with [visibly] challenging our own communities about their beliefs surrounding abortion, because people are very misinformed. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding abortion, and because of that women who get abortions are being judged, people who perform abortions are being judged, and both are being judged by people who don’t know the reasoning behind womens’ decisions.
Third, we believe in reproductive autonomy–that decisions about our bodies are personal, and that the state, and the government, should not intervene. They should not regulate what women, at any point in our lives, decide about our bodies. We should have the freedom to decide when to have kids.
MC: On that note of government, and what it deems to be legal: something I admire about Las Libres and movements like the marea verde in Argentina is that you do the crucial organizing work outside of just electoral or legislative politics–the immediate, on the ground support of bailing people out of jail or walking them through abortions. Can you speak on the need for work in these channels? How did defying anti-abortion laws help change the law in Mexico?
VC: Because governments have not lived up to their role, which is to guarantee our rights… we organize ourselves. It’s solidarity among women — today, international solidarity— that is saving lives. That is what is guaranteeing our rights and providing access to safe abortions.
In a pluralist democracy, the ideas and beliefs of all people are respected, but no one can impose their beliefs on others and control how they live their lives, or what is good or bad for them.That’s what the examples you gave, of Mexico and Argentina, have challenged. Both movements have socially decriminalized abortion much faster than governments have.
When politicians and lawmakers think that abortion will cost votes, nobody wants to talk about abortion, let alone legalize it. But when society—women, young people, voters—are in favor of abortion, governments magically change their minds. Now, thanks to mass movements for ‘social decriminalization,’ governments have been forced to legalize [abortion]…to maintain support. Challenging the state publicly and destigmatizing abortion pressures governments to guarantee abortion as a right.
MC: Like you said, it’s solidarity among women–and a solidarity that transcends borders— that is saving lives. The event you’re planning in San Francisco will be in the Mission, the city’s Latino cultural district. Do you have plans to collaborate more closely with Latinx folks in the United States?
VC: Yes, totally. As Mexican women, we of course have a particular interest in helping our sisters, the women from our country, Latina women—because we know that in the U.S. [Latinas] often have less access to [safe abortions] and are disproportionately affected by restrictions on abortion—whether because of their immigration status or because they can’t travel to safe states, or because they don’t have the information. For us it’s super, super important that we get to Latinx communities.
Borders today don’t matter–they shouldn’t matter. We want to, and should, support each other. We want to help Latinx communities [in the U.S.], so that more people have access to support, information, organized networks.
[It’s also important] that we begin to form more networks of information [and support]. In reality, medical abortions require only medication and information. The rest of the process is organized solidarity— to guarantee safe abortions at home. In our organization, there’s also the guarantee that womens’ choices won’t be criminalized, because we’re completely confidential.
We want to ensure that Latinx communities in the U.S. know us and know about us, and that they know that we’re an option. Hopefully, we’ll work and organize together to deliver information, resources, [and]medication—and this model [of support] can multiply.
MC: I’m sure there are people in states like California that are looking for ways to support people in need of abortions. What support are you looking for? How can people help?
VC: There are three options… First, people can volunteer by mailing medication to people who need it—and we’d facilitate, organize, and ensure the confidentiality of that process.
There are also people who [are anxious about mailing abortion pills], and we ask them to help organize the purchase of supplies—the medication for side effects, sweets, (because some people vomit after taking the pill, so candies sweeten the medication), teas, or the pads they need. There are people who organize drives for these supplies, [and others who] buy them and send them directly to people.
We also have workshops on acompañamiento so people have all the necessary information about how to accompany people and support… women who are deciding to end unwanted pregnancies. So that they’re not alone, so that they have someone to talk to, so that someone can answer their questions.
MC: You and your work are an inspiration for so many. What inspires you?
VC: The truth is that problems inspire me. I love solving problems. The more difficult something is, the more I’m inspired, because I think nothing is impossible—that if we organize as a collective we can resolve things. We can’t give up land, or rights, or territory to people that want to deny rights, to people who are against life, to people that are wrong. We can’t let people who are in the wrong win. That’s what inspires me.
To learn more about Las Libres, join Verónica Cruz on Saturday, December 10, 2022 at 3 p.m. for an event at Acción Latina (2958 24th Street, San Francisco).
To donate to Las Libres, visit laslibres.org.mx/2022/donaciones/
To request abortion pills from Las Libres, email email@example.com. For SMS, Signal, or WhatsApp, reach out to +524731727025.