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Texas legislators approve radical anti-abortion law, ignore chemical safety

After a delay caused by State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster, the Republican majority in the Texas legislature passed a bill that bars abortions (including in cases of rape and incest) after 20 weeks and– more significantly– will force all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close, making it virtually impossible for low-income women outside of a few urban areas to obtain legal abortions.

For awhile, police were confiscating tampons from spectators entering the State Senate gallery (for fear they would be used as projectiles) while permitting those with concealed-carry permits to bring in guns.

As Davis noted in the final debate on Friday, the new law may reduce the number of safe and legal abortions in Texas, but it is unlikely to reduce the total number of abortions.

Bloomberg News reported from the town of McAllen, Texas, which– because of the new law– will be hundreds of miles from any legal abortion provider.

At an open-air flea market outside McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border, shoppers can buy a goat and get their car windows tinted. Tables with handwritten signs touting Viagra 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.

It’s easy to buy the generic version of Cytotec, Misoprostol, which women use to induce abortion unsupervised, at pharmacies in Mexico. No prescription is needed there and it’s much cheaper than obtaining medication abortion at a legal clinic in the U.S.

Hundreds of miles north in Austin, the capital, lawmakers may inadvertently increase this illegal trade… 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.

While the Texas legislature went into special session to pass the law restricting abortions, it has done exactly nothing since the deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West to tighten the state’s lax regulations on dangerous chemicals, or to ensure that existing regulations are enforced.

Lawmakers in Austin have a handy excuse for punting on new fertilizer regulations: That would be intrusive. State Sen. Donna Campbell, the Republican who helped to shut down Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster of the abortion bill on procedural grounds, told the New York Times that lawmakers should be wary of monitoring chemical plants more closely because there’s “a point at which you can overregulate.”