Rural, communities of color and low-income New Mexicans in some areas of the state face greater barriers when deciding if, how and when to become parents. According to Power to Decide, a Washington D.C. based reproductive rights organization, 134,850 women between the ages of 13 and 44 live in a contraceptive desert in New Mexico. The nonprofit defines a contraceptive desert as a place where women lack reasonable access in their counties to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. Rachel Fey, director of public policy for Power to Decide, told NM Political Report this is important because women usually change contraceptive methods during their reproductive years. “People have the response, ‘What’s the problem? Go buy condoms. It’s no big deal.’ But it doesn’t work for everyone.
While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.
When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report.
When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has served as a swing vote in the U.S. Supreme Court on some issues including the decision not to overturn Roe v. Wade, but a new, more conservative replacement could change that. If the ruling is overturned, each state would decide on the legality of abortion. New Mexico is one of ten states where a pre-Roe law means abortion would be illegal if the landmark case were overturned. Overturning Roe v. Wade has been a conservative goal for decades and Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins told NPR this week that Kennedy’s retirement pushed them on the brink of success. “In New Mexico, we have an old statute on the books from pre Roe v. Wade,” explained State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces.
An announcement from Pope Francis declaring that all Catholic priests can continue to forgive women who have had abortions seems to be more symbolic and less canonical—at least in the United States. In an apostolic letter, or a formal decree, this week, Francis called on Catholic priests to continue forgiving women who have abortions after the Year of Mercy ended. “There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father,” Francis wrote. In New Mexico, a state with a heavily Catholic population, some welcomed the developments. But Catholics and other religious people who support abortion rights said the Church should further reform its stance on abortion rights.
After the United States Supreme Court announced Monday that a Texas law that limited where certain abortion procedures could take place was unconstitutional, national abortion rights activists weighed in and praised the court’s decision. The Supreme Court ruled against the Texas law 5-3. Whole Woman’s Health is a clinic that provides reproductive medical services in a handful of states across the country, including one in Las Cruces. Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a doctor with Whole Woman’s Health in Texas, said the decision is a win for Texas. “By striking down HB 2, the court has relieved one of so many obstacles in the path of justice for Texans and so many others around the country,” Kumar said in a statement on Monday.
As the country’s highest court decides whether to uphold a controversial Texas law restricting abortion access, New Mexico advocates on both sides of the issue await the impact of the decision. The Texas law, known as HB2, requires all abortions be performed in hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers and all facilities that practice surgical abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital located within 30 miles. Twenty-two of Texas’ 41 abortion clinics have closed since the state passed HB2 in 2013. Aside from El Paso, no abortion clinics currently operate in the entire western half of the country’s second-largest state. Because of this, many abortion rights advocates argue that HB2 has already impacted New Mexico and that a U.S. Supreme Court decision to keep the law could create a new precedent.
A bill to allow local governments to impose curfews on minors jumped through its second House committee, this time with some Democratic support. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, joined with seven Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee to vote yes on the bill. Maestas had been previously public about his support. “I’m stuck on this one,” Maestas said at committee. “I lean towards local control.”
The bill allows cities and counties to set up their own curfews for minors under 16 years of age.
The issue of teen curfews set up a firestorm of back and forth between supporters and opponents of a bill addressing the issue Monday afternoon. House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, presented a bill that would allow municipalities and counties to set their own curfew rules for minors. During his presentation to the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, Gentry said that the bill would not have major impact, saying that the term “curfew” is “a bit misleading.”
“All this bill does is during school hours and from midnight until five, law enforcement can contact minors,” he said. Gentry said the bill defines minors as people who are 16 years old and under. Still, the bill drew opposition from many, including some fellow lawmakers in committee.
Rhetoric on abortion heated up in 2015 after anti-abortion advocates leaked videos of Planned Parenthood officials and Robert Dear violently attacked a clinic in Colorado Springs. But whether the emotional debate comes to bills at the legislative session later this month and next isn’t yet known. Measures impacting abortion rights face odds this year because the upcoming session is focused on the state budget. Gov. Susana Martinez has the sole authority to allow any legislation not related to the state budget to be heard this year. So far, only state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has confirmed publicly that she asked Martinez to allow the Legislature to hear a bill that would ban abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.