March 21, 2020

Abortion fund providers say global pandemic causing difficulties

New Mexico abortion fund providers are already seeing impacts as the public health emergency and financial crisis worsens during the COVID-19 global pandemic, according to advocates.

A group of abortion fund providers in New Mexico issued a statement Friday to remind elected leaders and others that reproductive healthcare, including abortion, is not elective medicine. In line with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recent statement that any reproductive procedure which, if delayed, will “negatively affect patient health and safety should not be delayed,” Indigenous Women Rising, Mariposa Fund and New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice issued their own statement to tell elected leaders to continue to respect reproductive healthcare for women. All three groups offer funding and other aid for people seeking an abortion. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum also signed the letter. NAPAWF has an Albuquerque chapter and focuses on reproductive rights, among other issues.

Due to the lack of infrastructure to cope with the COVID-19 global pandemic, medical professionals in some areas around the country are reporting feeling overwhelmed. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference on Wednesday that New Mexico received just 25 percent of the personal protective equipment it asked for from a federal stockpile to cope with COVID-19 as the virus continues to spread within the state.

Related: Eight new positive COVID-19 cases, including first in southern and western New Mexico. Total is 43

This has caused some officials to recommend people who were planning elective surgery to wait until the public emergency is over to free up hospital beds, equipment and demands on medical providers.

“I’m worried something will be considered elective, but I have faith in our governor to understand reproductive healthcare is necessary no matter what the reproductive health care is,” Rachael Lorenzo, cofounder of Indigenous Women Rising, said.

Lorenzo said that reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion, prenatal visits and giving birth, “will be impacted and none of these are elective.”

Lorenzo also expressed concern for those who identify as transgender, gender nonbinary, as well as for those who identify as women, and for immigrant communities.  

Related: Signs of rise in racism against Asians and Asian-Americans

Human Rights Watch reported Thursday stories of countries where the virus has already spread where various types of abuse took place as the countries moved to try to contain the virus.

Both IWR and New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice say they serve many people who live out of state. Lorenzo worries that politicians in surrounding states may use this moment as an opportunity to “push their own political agenda.”

“I am just worried for my relatives in surrounding states where their governing bodies may start arbitrarily restricting abortion access. They may see it as more of a political issue instead of reproductive health care. They may be pushing their own political agenda instead of keeping healthcare people really need,” Lorenzo said.

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said her organization has seen an increase in callers from last week. On March 13, just two days into New Mexico’s public health emergency, Lamunyon Sanford said her group had seen no noticeable change in abortion care in New Mexico.

But already, one week later, that has begun to change, Lamunyon Sanford said.

“Just this week we saw several of our callers have additional hardships to get here,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

She said the price of a bus ticket has increased this week.  

“They’ve gone up significantly and there were no buses and no tickets available. And if you’ve never flown before, this is not the time to have to figure that out,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

Lorenzo said IWR has not experienced any change in the number of calls or in what IWR hears from callers. But Lorenzo said IWR volunteers “hear it in people’s voices.”

“People are a little more worried about being asked why they’re leaving home,” Lorenzo said.

As COVID-19, a disease caused by a type of coronavirus continues to spread, states are increasingly restricting travel. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency in New Mexico on March 11 and this week ordered restaurants, malls and other places where people gather to shut down. Other states, such as California and New York, have taken more drastic measures this week in order to flatten the curve of the virus due a lack of infrastructure to properly care for those who require hospitalization.

The abortion funders are planning a fundraiser for later this spring. Lamunyon Sanford said that even if it has to happen online, it will still happen.

“It might be a virtual bowlathon. We’re still figuring that out,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

Another way in which the public health emergency has affected New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is that the organization relies heavily on volunteers, some of whom are elderly or work in the healthcare industry.

“It’s not a crisis yet,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

But she said some of the hospitality volunteers are fewer in number now so the group will have to pay for more hotel rooms. The governor also ordered that hotels reduce capacity by half to help slow the spread of COVID019.

“And we’ll do that if that’s what our callers need,” Lamunyon Sanford said. “We’re all working closely together to make sure that we do everything we can so that COVID-19 won’t stop abortion access.”

Correction: This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. Saturday and again at 12:10 p.m. Tuesday to reflect the following changes: The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is not called the New Mexico Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Rachael Lorenzo’s name is not Rachel. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum is not an abortion funder but is an organization that supports reproductive rights.