October 22, 2018

Planned Parenthood expansion to El Paso will impact NM

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Planned Parenthood is expanding to El Paso for the first time in nearly 10 years, which supporters say will make abortion access easier for women in Southern New Mexico.

Marshall Martinez, the public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, told NM Political Report while it still isn’t convenient for people in Las Cruces to drive to El Paso, the new clinic will be an additional resource for southern New Mexico.

“This would provide an additional point of access, closer than Albuquerque, which is needed for the community down there,” Martinez said.

Planned Parenthood currently has two clinics that provide abortion services in New Mexico. One in Albuquerque, and the other in Santa Fe. Two other locations provide abortion referrals, but not services. The new Planned Parenthood El Paso clinic will be able to perform medical and surgical abortion, and will open at the end of October.

Currently the sole abortion provider in southern New Mexico is Hill Top Women’s Reproductive Clinic in Sunland Park.

And in New Mexico, Texans are still the top out-of-state clients for procuring abortions in the state.

“We saw a huge increase after House Bill 2 from people coming from Texas,” Martinez said. House Bill 2 was a Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 that required abortion clinics abide by stringent hospital standards and also mandated any abortion provider must have admitting privileges in a hospital no further than 30 minutes from any clinic. In the three years HB2 was in place, more than 20 abortion clinics across Texas shut down.

And besides the messaging, the data for tracking how far people travel for abortion care is few and far between.

Impact on New Mexico

In its 2017 annual report, the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice stated it provided direct assistance in the form of transportation, lodging and/or meals for 108 women seeking abortions. Nearly half of those women were from Texas.

Nearly 200 women from out of state used New Mexico Planned Parenthood abortion resources last year, said Neta Meltzer, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. According to her, 80 percent of those patients traveled from Texas.

Despite a small spike in 2016, abortions performed in New Mexico, abortions have decreased overall in the past five years, with a 2017 total of 3,999 according to the New Mexico Department of Health. That’s about 500 fewer abortions being performed in the state since 2014, which was  the lowest in the nation.

Understanding how the state ranks nationally is difficult because the collection methods for abortion data is patchwork and sporadic. National abortion data comes from two sources, publicly-funded from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)and privately-funded from the Guttmacher Institute.

CDC numbers are a collection from states’ departments of health. California, Maryland and New Hampshire do not provide data, making the numbers incomplete.

Guttmacher on the other hand, surveys abortion providers directly. In 2014, 58 percent of surveyed providers responded, while the other 42 percent were estimated.

According to Guttmacher national numbers approximately 926,200 abortions were performed in 2014, meaning that New Mexico performed less than one percent (0.36) of abortions nationwide in the same year.

The CDC national numbers also show New Mexico is performing a small amount of total abortions. The reported 2014 national numbers are 652,639 and New Mexico performed 0.51 percent of abortions.

In New Mexico, the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics (NMVRHS) is a division of the Department of Health that collects data on birth, death rates which include maternal death, fetal death and Induced Terminations of Pregnancy (abortions) for annual selected health statistic reports. According to their methodology, abortion data is given to NMVRHS from medical providers, and only limited data is collected. This means identities of patients and providers remains unknown.

Table I. Statistics from DOH

Number of NM Occurrence Abortion by residence, 2014-2017
Year Residence NM Occurrence NM Unknown
2014 3347 4503 266
2015 3240 4669 220
2016 3233 4573 144
2017 3003 3999 103

‘Occurrence NM’ refers to the total of all abortions in New Mexico each year.  ‘Unknown’ counts represent individuals that did not provide information on their residence.

Abortions from out-of-state residents (not counting unknowns) peaked in 2016 at 26 percent. The trend in 2014-15 was an increase from 19 percent to 25 percent. However rates declined in 2017 to 22 percent.

NMDOH does not track how far people travel to access abortion or other reproductive service care.

When asked if there was an average travel time for people seeking abortions in New Mexico Meltzer said Planned Parenthood doesn’t track travel times.

“We know anecdotally that patients come from near and far,” Meltzer wrote in an email exchange. “We’ve heard from patients who have traveled over four hours through mountain passes to reach us.”

Meltzer reiterated that travel times are an access issue.

“We believe that every individual, no matter their zip code, should have access to the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care.”