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This Mexican clinic is offering discreet abortions to Americans just over the border

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Luisa García is the director of Profem Tijuana, a Mexican clinic that offers abortions and is near the border with the United States. In July, Americans made up an estimated 50% of patients seeking abortions there.

TIJUANA, Mexico — In the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Luisa García has noticed a sharp and striking trend: More Americans are seeking her clinic's services in Tijuana, Mexico.

García is the director of Profem Tijuana, where people can get abortions just a few steps across the San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana.

In May, Americans made up 25% of patients receiving abortions there. By July, it was 50%.

These are just estimates, since Profem doesn't require patients to provide proof of residency. Yet while official figures aren't kept on Americans crossing the border for abortions, it fits a pattern of anecdotal evidence that more people are turning to Mexico for services since the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion in May showed the court would overturn Roe.

"They don't tell us the truth because they think that we are going to deny them service once they tell us that they're from the U.S.," García says of the American patients. "We see people that only speak English, with blue eyes and blond hair — in other words, there's no way to deny they come from elsewhere."

/ Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Anyone, regardless of nationality, can get an abortion at the Profem clinic in Tijuana, says Luisa García, the clinic's director.
/ Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
A doctor reviews a patient's medical form at the PROFEM clinic in Tijuana.

Anyone, regardless of nationality, can get an abortion at Profem, García says. The clinic is now looking to expand, moving from offering medication abortions in Tijuana to soon providing the surgical procedure there too. And Profem is scouting for a new clinic.

García believes Tijuana has become a destination due to cost, privacy and convenience.

At Profem, abortion services range from around $200 to $400 and are provided up to 12 weeks' gestation. Abortions in the U.S. at these stages typically cost between $600 and $1,000 without insurance, according to the Texas Equal Access Fund.

Though getting an abortion in Tijuana can be cheaper, other factors can make the trip more difficult. García recalls one American patient who struggled with the entire process — finding child care, the language barrier, withdrawing Mexican pesos — more than the actual medical procedure.

"At our clinic, we try to make the process as humane as possible in terms of not labeling, asking or questioning," García says. "The decision is difficult enough."

/ Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
An operating room at a Profem clinic.
/ Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR
Medical supplies stored at the Profem clinic in Tijuana.

The anecdotal trend comes amid heightened concerns about privacy, as some U.S. states that have banned abortions enact "bounty hunter" laws that incentivize citizens to report those who seek an abortion, and privacy experts warn that data from period-tracking apps could be used to penalize people seeking or considering an abortion.

Mexico decriminalized abortion in 2021, but it isn't legal throughout the whole country. Tijuana is in Baja California, the only Mexican state along the border with the U.S. where abortions are legal, which makes it an easier destination for those looking to cross from the United States.

In the U.S., some courts are still figuring out if abortions will remain legal in their states. At least 14 states have implemented near-total abortion bans. Tennessee, Idaho and Texas enacted even tougher bans last week. And Texas — from where García says the clinic receives several patients — no longer has clinics providing abortions.

With the Tijuana clinic, García believes discretion is both necessary and helpful.

"We need to be discreet because neighbors will have something to say, pro-life groups will protest or patients might even feel uncomfortable when they arrive," García says.

She hopes the clinic won't have to remain hidden forever. With time, García thinks abortions there will become more normalized. Until then, the clinic will rely on word of mouth — and welcome anyone who seeks it out for help.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.