June 17, 2022

New Mexico legislators meet with White House officials over abortion

The White House South facade. Wikicommons

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Healthcare a few weeks away, White House officials held a conference call with New Mexico legislators and others about the impending reproductive healthcare crisis.

House Majority Leader Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena of Mesilla and state Sen. Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi, all Democrats, participated in the call with White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein and  White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Julie Chavez Rodriguez earlier this week. After the Texas six-week gestational ban went into effect last September, some clinics in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada experienced a 500 percent increase in patients, according to the White House statement.

Martinez told NM Political Report that specific policy issues did not come up during the call but said that “we talked about making sure we will provide access to reproductive health services.”

“New Mexico stands with women and New Mexico respects reproductive justice and it will be a beacon of hope for women across the country. It is our responsibility as state legislators to make sure it happens,” he said.

New Mexico is expected to be one of about 25 states where abortion will remain legal and safe if the court overturns Roe v. Wade this summer, as anticipated, when it releases its Dobbs’ decision.

The state of Mississippi banned abortion after 15 weeks, which contradicted  Roe v. Wade. The court has been deliberating since December over the case.

Martinez said one example of how New Mexico will be supporting women while the highest court is considering eliminating women’s right to an abortion is through access to contraception.

Nicole Comeaux, director of New Mexico Human Services Department’s Medicaid division, said that the state’s Medicaid coverage includes all forms of contraception and that there are no co-pays. She attributed a decrease in the state’s number of teenage births and unexpected pregnancies in recent years as due to the increased accessibility of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception , which are mostly Intrauterine Devices, or IUDs, through Medicaid coverage. Almost 50 percent of New Mexico is covered by Medicaid and 58 percent of children are, she said.

Comeaux said that in 2020 the state increased its rates for LARCs to be one of the states providing the most coverage for that form of contraception in the country. She said that in 2021 the state began a collaboration with the University of New Mexico to initiate a pilot project that improves same-day access to contraception at school-based health centers to help reduce teenage pregnancy.

“We’re looking to expand that across the state,” she said.

Martinez noted that the anticipated abortion clinic crunch in the state that will make it hard for New Mexico-based abortion patients to obtain timely appointments is part of a larger health care provider shortage in New Mexico.

He also said New Mexico has “struggled a lot with behavioral health as well.”

Martinez pointed to SB 317, passed and signed by the governor in 2021, that added a health insurance premium surtax by 2.75 percentage points to help create a health care affordability fund to expand coverage through the state’s health care exchange and enable more individuals to be covered. He said that was one way the legislature is trying to address the problem of healthcare for the state.

Martinez said one way to incentivize more health care providers to move to rural areas would be to create tax incentives as well as possibly student loan relief offers and educational opportunities.

“There are so many points we could look at and money not being a problem at this point we could make these investments over the next few years,” he said.

White House officials also included Nevada and Colorado legislature leadership in the call. Colorado has passed a law that explicitly protects abortion in that state. Martinez said he didn’t think that since the state repealed the 1969 anti-abortion law in 2021, that New Mexico necessarily needed to pass a similar law.

“I think at this point, my focus is to ensure resources flow to these [healthcare] services. For people who live in rural New Mexico, it’s very difficult to access services. That’s one of the places we need to start,” he said.

Martinez called himself an “eternal optimist” and said the June 7 primary was heartening for candidates who support reproductive healthcare in the state.

“We have to lead with conviction and hope,” he said.