Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain clinics, which includes those in New Mexico, experienced a 130 percent increase in patients coming from Texas since August.
The organization held a press conference on Monday alongside elected officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada to discuss how the six-week gestational abortion ban in Texas has impacted the health care provider across the three states. In New Mexico alone, Planned Parenthood clinics have served 50 Texas patients since the ban began on September 1, Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications for PPRM, said.
Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive officer for PPRM, said the average wait time for an appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Mexico is now 21 days.
She said Texas patients have had to travel, on average, 650 miles one-way to access abortion.
“The heinousness cannot be overstated,” Cowart said.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, talked about the importance of SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which was enacted in February 2021. The law eliminated antiquated language from the criminal code that banned abortion in New Mexico with few exceptions.
“We value women’s ability to make important health care decisions based on the unique circumstances she faces in her life. We want to make sure politics never gets in between a woman and her doctor,” Egolf said.
He said New Mexico has been “working closely to identify new resources for patients in New Mexico.”
Cowart said patients coming from Texas have sometimes spent “their last dollar” on gas to get to the clinic but may not have money to feed their children on the drive back from Albuquerque to Texas. She said that private funders have stepped in with funding so that Planned Parenthood clinics can help Texas patients with the additional costs involved in travel but “it’s pretty significant.”
“If we get more funding [from New Mexico] to cover work we’re doing around contraception and healthy women and breast healthcare, we can use our money to help the Texas patients,” Cowart said.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that nearly 600 bills to ban or restrict abortion have been introduced into state legislatures so far in 2021. Of that, nearly 100 have been enacted, she said.
“2021 has been the worst year for reproductive health,” she said.
Egolf said New Mexico is “beyond debate at this point,” on reproductive healthcare.
“Those who want to turn back the clock are a minority,” he said. “The voters throughout the state, both rural and urban, responded overwhelmingly in support of pro-choice candidates in the primary and the general.”
Egolf was presumably referring to the five progressive Democrats who defeated conservative Democratic Senate incumbents who had voted in the 2019 Legislature against repealing the antiquated language banning abortion in New Mexico that had been in the criminal code since 1969. While not all of the progressive Democrats won in November 2020, reproductive rights advocates picked up six votes in the state Senate during the general election.
Cowart said Planned Parenthood clinics are trying to expand their telehealth options so that patients in New Mexico can receive medication abortion through the mail as a way to ease the strain. But another “severe constraint is healthcare staffing.”
“People are worn out,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cowart said that in 2019, there were about 2,700 abortions in New Mexico but in Texas, there were about 56,000.
“Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will do everything we can to serve the patients but with numbers like these, it won’t be enough. There will be patients who won’t be able to access care. There is something fundamentally wrong with forcing people to leave their home communities to seek healthcare,” she said.