Amid legal changes to abortion rights in Texas and Mexico, protests break out on both sides of the border — and both sides of the issue
When the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban took effect in Texas on Sept. 1, Perla Galindo was 1,700 miles from El Paso. In Seattle, the left-leaning city where she now lives, Galindo says many feel insulated from the new Texas law.
The 28-year-old reproductive rights activist disagrees.
“People aren’t seeing the trickle down of how restrictions along the border in Texas, and Louisiana, and all the states that are coming next, are going to start affecting everybody else,” said Galindo, an El Paso native who co-founded the UTEP student group Frontera Folx, which advocates for reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights. “Because we live in Washington, this blue state, people think that it’ll never affect us.”
She cheered from afar on Sept. 7, when Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that punishments for abortion are unconstitutional — though she knew the fight for abortion rights was far from over in Ciudad Juárez, where she’d spent much of her childhood. Despite the landmark court ruling, the procedure remains illegal in the conservative border state of Chihuahua.
“It’s really awesome what happened.” she said. “But it’s like, what happens next? There will still be a lot of doctors that won’t give you an abortion … there’s a lot still missing.”
Though Galindo left El Paso in 2019 for higher-paying nonprofit work, she hasn’t left her local activism behind — not in El Paso, and not in Juárez. So when she flew back to El Paso for a wedding, she spent much of her time here in protest.
Last week, just a month after legal developments dramatically shifted the state of abortion rights in Texas and in Mexico, hundreds of protestors marched in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez to demand reproductive freedom on both sides of the border. Galindo was there to join them.
International Safe Abortion Day in Ciudad Juárez
Wielding wooden bats and bullhorns, a dozen black-clad women in ski masks and construction vests shielded protestors with a band of yellow caution tape as they marched down Avenida Vicente Guerrero on Sept. 28 to demand legal and safe abortions.
At the sight of political posters plastered to a storefront wall, a handful of women splintered from the group to deface the toothy smiles of conservative state lawmakers — among them, Chihuahua’s new governor, who opposes abortion — with images of raised fists. They sprinted back to rejoin the march.
Galindo stayed inside the caution tape. “I wholeheartedly respect them,” she said of the feminist collectives that had organized the Juárez march for International Safe Abortion Day. Also called #28S, the march occurs every year on Sept. 28 to commemorate Brazil’s 1871 enactment of the Law of the Free Womb, which granted freedom for children born to slaves.
The activists’ bold and visible acts of civil disobedience were risky, she said.
“But the beauty of it is they don’t care. They don’t care about the negative reaction or negative feedback,” she said. “They’re doing the work because it’s important to them.”
To Galindo, the fight for abortion rights holds higher stakes in Juárez. For years, the movement for reproductive rights has occurred largely underground and outside the law. With pregnant people unable to obtain legal abortions in Chihuahua, activists have taken matters into their own hands, forming clandestine networks to help people end their own pregnancies using abortion pills.
As the protest wound through the streets, some activists handed out leaflets with instructions for inducing abortions using misoprostol, a medication that can be bought over the counter at Mexican pharmacies because it also is used to treat ulcers.
Despite Mexico’s recent Supreme Court decision decriminalizing abortion, Chihuahua has not yet removed criminal penalties for the procedure. Under the existing code, anyone who has an abortion or performs an abortion procedure faces anywhere from six months to three years in jail.
The reproductive rights movement in Juárez has also been overshadowed by another feminist movement protesting violence against women in the city. But since 2018, when the collective Juárez Feminista organized the first local #28S march, the pro-abortion rallies have grown with each passing year.
They have also joined forces with other feminist causes, made visible through the crowd’s mix of purple — a color worn in protest of violence against women — and green, the color of Marea Verde, the movement to legalize abortion throughout Latin America.
Just a few older women marched with the crowd of mostly women in their 20s. The separatist event, as organizers described it, allowed only women and infants to join its cohort.
As the group turned a corner, a smaller crowd of protestors appeared behind them holding a banner that read, “Mujeres y personas gestantes” — meaning women and people who can become pregnant, including those who identify as transgender or nonbinary.
The “Mujeres y personas gestantes” cohort described its protest as an inclusive, LGBTQ-friendly event allowing women, infants and trans and nonbinary people to participate in their march. This LGBTQ-friendly group hung back, staying a half-block’s distance behind the separatist cohort.
Eventually, both groups arrived at Borunda Park. “Members of the LGBTQ community also have abortions,” a protester shouted from a megaphone, to cheers. “And they also have the right to safe and legal abortions.”
Two of the black-clad women from the separatist cohort quickly scaled a statue, the Monument to Mothers. They wrapped a green Marea Verde bandana around the mother’s neck as others fired green smoke bombs into the air.
40 Days for Life: Opposing abortion in El Paso and Juárez
Last week also saw demonstrations against abortion on both sides of the border. Late afternoon on Sept. 30, a man and a woman stood with their arms around each other by the empty parking lot at El Paso Planned Parenthood, praying in soft voices over rosary beads.
After an hour, they walked down the block to the local office of the Southwest Coalition for Life, which opposes abortions, and signed off on their volunteer shifts.
Their vigil formed part of the biannual 40 Days for Life campaign, an international movement working to end abortions through community outreach, fasting, and 40 days of “peaceful all-day vigil(s) in front of local abortion businesses,” according to its website. El Paso’s Planned Parenthood has not provided abortions since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Southwest Coalition for Life had no plans for counter-protesting at the pro-abortion marches that week, said Jessica Sifuentes, the group’s director of operations. “We’ll be celebrating life,” she said.
Outside the coalition’s office, the two prayer-vigil volunteers signed off on their shifts. One turned to a stack of signs “reza por el fin de aborto,” pray for the end of abortion, took one, and left.
On Oct. 3, a demonstrator raised that sign on the south side of the Rio Grande, where religious Juarenses joined anti-abortion groups from El Paso, Dallas and New Mexico to protest the Mexican Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize abortion.
Women’s March: Our Future, Our Choice in El Paso
As part of the fifth annual national Women’s March, El Paso’s “Our Future, Our Choice: Mi Futuro en Mis Manos” protest denounced Texas Senate Bill 8, the first early-term abortion ban to take effect in the country.
It began at the Chamizal National Memorial on Oct. 2 — the day after a preliminary injunction hearing where the U.S. Department of Justice argued for a temporary halt to SB 8 while challenges to the law make their way through the court system.
There were lap dogs, baby strollers and chocolate chip cookies; the crowd spanned generations and genders.
It was the first protest that both Gabrielle Castro, 16, and her mother, Monica Maldonado, 38, had ever attended. “The minute we got here,” Maldonado said of her daughter, “she turned to me and said, ‘Oh, we’re staying.’”
“I could feel the empowerment,” Castro added. “I knew it was a serious thing.”
“I’ve been through all of this before,” said Judy Lugo, 72, who was concerned that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case declaring pre-viability abortions a constitutional right, would be overturned. “It breaks my heart that we’re going backwards instead of forwards.”
Organized by Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Frontera Folx, the Borderland Rainbow Center and Sunrise Texas, the rally began with a series of “power poses” and chants in honor of the Chilean anti-rape performance protest that went global in 2019.
Chanting “My body, my choice! Mi cuerpo, mi derecho!” and “Frontera! Presente!” the group of 300 or so protesters left the national monument and marched down Delta Street in South El Paso, the border wall and Ciudad Juárez to their right.
Among the crowd, 38-year-old Calvin Zielsdorf walked alone beneath a highway overpass. “I’ve been a part of three abortions,” said Zielsdorf, who unsuccessfully ran for El Paso mayor in 2020. “How could I not be here in solidarity?”
This time, Galindo did not march. She waited at the end of the route in Delta Park, helping Frontera Folx, the group she co-founded, pass out Gatorade and water to the sweaty protestors as they finished their mile-long march.
Watching 300 people march toward her “was pretty dope,” Galindo said. But she wished the U.S. Women’s March had been timed to coincide with the international #28S rally — just as she wished the Juárez protests had not been separated by gender identity.
“We’re working in different corners of the same room,” she said. “We’re not meeting in the middle.”
“We’re fighting for the same things,” she added. “But we’re working toward it in different ways.”
Verónica Martínez of La Verdad contributed to this story.
Cover photo: A girl waves a tube of green smoke to represent the abortion rights movement in Mexico during a demonstration at the Monument to Mothers in Juárez’s Parque Borunda on Sept. 28. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)