May 21, 2021

The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Laura Paskus

The U.S. Supreme Court

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade next year when it hears the case involving a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, New Mexico could face a fight and increased harassment at clinics, according to reproductive rights experts.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this week it will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, regarding the Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks with few exceptions. The state of Mississippi asked the court to decide on whether all pre-viability bans on abortion violate the Constitution. The court’s decision is expected to come down in 2022 before the mid-term general election.

New Mexico, which was one of very few states to pass pro-abortion rights legislation this year, will feel the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision regardless of how the court decides the Mississippi case, according to reproductive health advocates.

Related: New Mexico one of few states to pass pro-reproductive rights legislation this year

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said the nonprofit organization’s volunteers who escort abortion patients to clinics have already witnessed an uptick in protestors at Albuquerque abortion clinics this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve also seen an increase in their anger about the results of the election and they’re more emboldened to push legal boundaries,” she said.

Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, told NM Political Report that anytime there is development around abortion laws, including elections, legislative sessions and major court hearings, there is an increased number of anti-abortion protestors outside of clinics.

“I won’t be surprised if we see violent behavior in the coming months and years. I hope I’m wrong,” she said. “No one should have to face violence and hate to access medical care and no one should have to fear for their safety when going to work but that’s the reality for abortion care in this country.”

With the confirmation last year of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the U.S. Supreme Court has a bloc of six conservatives on the bench. Coney Barrett’s opposition to reproductive health care, including both contraception and abortion, has been well documented. The Washington Post reported last year that Coney Barrett accepted speaker fees from Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that questions the separation of church and state.

Rushforth said that if the court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade, New Mexico can expect a future fight over legislation and elections.

“I absolutely anticipate anti-abortion extremists and politicians will ratchet up their attempts to restrict and ban abortion in states like New Mexico,” Rushforth said.

Currently, the state has protections in place. In addition to the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law this year, the state also has an equal rights amendment which Rushforth said would protect abortion access in the state.

The New Mexico courts ruled in 1998 that “any restrictions [on abortion access] should be deemed unconstitutional under the equal rights amendment,” Rushforth said.

The Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act repealed the 1969 state statute banning abortion. But reproductive rights advocates began preparing for the effort to repeal the state statute that criminalized abortion years ago. An attempt to pass a similar bill failed in 2019. Lujan Grisham prioritized the effort in this legislative session.

Related: The 2021 Legislature called ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ by reproductive justice advocates

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains officials said early in 2020 that they expected 25 million women of reproductive age would be living in states without a single abortion provider within a few years.

Related: With a health care crisis under way, New Mexico could be critical for abortion access

With the court’s decision to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reproductive rights advocates worry that this prediction could come true. Rushforth said that if the court’s decision next year leads to abortion clinics shuttering in other states, that will lead anti-abortion groups to turn their sites on states like New Mexico where access is still legal.

“As other clinics close, as they will if Roe is overturned, I would not be surprised to see an influx of anti-abortion protestors in New Mexico,” Rushforth said.

Lamunyon Sanford said the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice experienced a greater need for help in accessing abortion in New Mexico last year because of the pandemic.

“Just in the last year of COVID we’ve seen an increased need for our support. People have lost jobs. It’s not a good time for some people; not a good time to start a family, so we’re busy and yes, we have a lot more callers,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

She said New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is already planning for an increased need from abortion patients from Texas to travel to New Mexico for care because Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a six-week gestational ban into law on Wednesday.

When Texas banned abortion in the early months of the pandemic last year, and the law ricocheted through the courts for several weeks, Lamunyon Sanford said New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice received an increased need from Texas abortion patients. But, she said it didn’t stop when Texas lifted its ban.

“I think that, unfortunately, a lot of people never got the abortion they needed because of the confusion about it as it worked its way through the courts and decisions changed overnight. There was a lot of confusion and not everybody has the resources to travel, especially during a pandemic,” she said.

Lamunyon Sanford said Roe v. Wade “should be the floor” for abortion care. Despite the comparative freedom to access abortion New Mexico when held up to other states that have chipped away with gestational bans and various other laws, the federal Hyde Amendment is one obstacle that affects New Mexico, too, she said.

The Hyde Amendment, attached to the federal budget every year since the late 1970s, prohibits federal support for abortion care. In practical terms, this means that Indigenous people who rely on Indian Health Services, military personnel and their dependents and federal employees who rely on their employer’s health insurance, must pay out-of-pocket or find other resources to pay for abortion care, Lamunyon Sanford said.

But, she said “abortion shouldn’t be set aside or carved out.”

“You shouldn’t have to go to a specialty clinic. We’re really fortunate that [New Mexico] Medicaid covers abortion care and even covers transportation in rural areas to get to Albuquerque, but you shouldn’t have to do that. You should be able to go to your local provider and get medication abortion early in pregnancy.”

She said the only reason why there is a need for abortion clinics is because the stigma around abortion prevents local providers from providing the service.

But, Rushforth said we already live in a “post Roe world.”

“When we talk about a post Roe world, we’re living in a post Roe world already. We are working to make sure everyone can access the abortion care they need but anti-abortion extremists are working just as hard to push this needed and safe care out of reach,” she said.