More Texas Women Could Seek 'Star Pills' for Abortion


"If done properly and done in combination, they are safe," said Minto. But alone, misoprostol "doesn't work that well."

"It's kind of like a cheap cure for a radiator leak," he said. "Its efficacy rate is about 30 percent when used alone and improperly. But even though I don't approve of it, I can't criticize it. I would probably try the same if I were in a situation like these women."

Misoprostol is more readily available than mifepristone because it is prescribed to prevent gastric ulcers.

Hispanic women call them "star pills" for their hexagonal shape and they are commonly used in Latin America, where abortion is illegal, turning a shameful procedure into something that looks like a miscarriage. American immigrants can obtain them for about $2 a pill from relatives in overseas bodegas and pharmacies, according to Gonzalez-Rojas.

The Texas law, backed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, is one of the strictest in the United States. It bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and hold clinics like Minto's to the same physical standards as hospital surgical centers.

Its supporters say that the strengthened regulations for the structures and doctors will protect women's health.

Rep. Jason Villalba, a Republican from Dallas, said the new law will not have a negative impact on low-income women, as critics have suggested.

"I am pro-life, but no one is denying Roe v. Wade is the law of the land," he said. "But if we are going to provide a procedure, then the state has the right to regulate how it's done to protect our women who receive this procedure.

"We want women to have the same kind of surgical care, for instance, if they have an appendix or tonsils removed," said Villalba.

One of the new regulations is that abortion providers are located within 30 miles of a hospital.

"If something goes awry," he said, "it's a serious procedure -- we want the doctor to be able to get to a hospital quickly and provide care."

Villalba wouldn't answer questions directly about the possibility of more women using these pills, but argued more broadly that clinics that can't comply with new regulations will "fall by the wayside." Villalba insisted women who choose abortion will still have access. He said opponents of the bill have exaggerated the numbers of clinics that will close.

"Here's the good news," Villalba said. "The clinics [that] remain after the dust is settled will have new standards to protect women."

But advocates like Gonzalez-Rojas say the new law is "an affront on women."

"What we know is that with the increase of barriers mounting, the limited clinics down there are likely going to close if they face all these regulations," she said. "Women get put in desperate situations. We don't know how the black market will turn out, so they might get something that isn't the right drug. We are fighting the laws to make sure women get access to care."

The bill was opposed by many doctors, including leaders of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association.

About 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion by the time they reach 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights. In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 43 restrictions on access to abortion.

In Texas, the abortion rate has remained steady since 2005. The rate in 2008, the last year for which there are statistics, was lower than in the rest of the country: about 16.5 abortions per 1,000 women, aged 15 to 44. The national rate for that year was 19.6.

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