August 25, 2022

Abortion fund expanding services to Las Cruces 

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

Helen Shay holds a sign supporting abortion rights.

The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an abortion fund provider, is expanding its services to Las Cruces.

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade in June, more than one reproductive healthcare organization has said it will open a new clinic in Las Cruces to help with what many have called a health care crisis. So far, some bans on abortion have become law in 17 states, including most neighboring states. This has increased the number of patients traveling to New Mexico seeking care.

While Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NMRCRC, told NM Political Report that since Texas banned abortion after six weeks in September of last year, the abortion fund started receiving between 75 to 80 callers a month. After the court overturned Roe in late June, the organization call rate increased immediately. The abortion fund received 96 calls in July and expect at least 110 by the end of August.

Abortion clinics and abortion funds in New Mexico are busier than ever before – with no end in sight – and new clinics are set to open in Las Cruces in the near future. Pink House West is one new clinic opening in Las Cruces and, before the doors opened, anti-abortion groups held an anti-abortion rally in a nearby parking lot and announced the launch of a crisis pregnancy center in the building next door.

Related: How anti-abortion activists plan to turn New Mexico into an anti-abortion state

In response to the new abortion clinics opening in Las Cruces, NMRCRC, which offers logistical help in the form of travel, hotel, food and an escort to the clinic, is looking to expand its services to the state’s second largest city to support those new clinics, Lamunyon Sanford said.

She said she could not project when the expansion will occur but the organization has started the initial steps by searching for a volunteer coordinator to work part-time in Las Cruces recruiting and training volunteers and coordinating patient logistics.

“I do really encourage people [to apply] if they’re really motivated right now,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

NMRCRC is one of four abortion fund providers in New Mexico. Each abortion fund provider in New Mexico offers slightly different services but the main point for each is to help abortion patients in need receive an abortion. For many patients of color, the cost of abortion, plus the logistics of childcare, travel and time off from work, can be overwhelming without abortion fund support, advocates have said. 

A national network of abortion funds exist throughout the U.S.

Lamunyon Sanford said Texas patients are still the primary reason for the increase in calls to her organization. After Texas restricted abortion at six weeks gestation last year, many Texas patients traveled to Oklahoma and Mississippi and other surrounding states, including New Mexico. But now abortion care is banned in those states as well, forcing more patients to come to New Mexico.

“We know the clinics are seeing more patients; that means more people needing support from us,” she said.

In addition to an increase in callers, Lamunyon Sanford said the organization has also seen an increase in support, both in the form of volunteers as well as an uptick in donations. She said NMRCRC has experienced an increase in recurring donations, which has been particularly helpful as the need for the kind of support abortion funds provide is continuing to increase.

She said the organization has also seen anti-abortion protestors who regularly harass patients and providers outside Albuquerque clinics behave with greater boldness since the court overturned Roe.

“They are seeming to be more entitled,” she said.

With the expansion to provide abortion fund support services in Las Cruces comes a new level of worry. Patients flying in from out of state will more than likely arrive into the El Paso airport. Lamunyon Sanford said NMRCRC’s legal team is looking into any potential liabilities if NMRCRC volunteers pick up patients at the El Paso airport. Providing a ride from Albuquerque’s Sunport is one of the support services NMRCRC offer patients traveling to Albuquerque for an abortion.

Ellie Rushforth, attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said that while some state legislatures have introduced bills to ban interstate travel for abortion, none have passed such a law. It is still legal to transport an abortion patient from a state that has banned abortion, such as Texas, to get to New Mexico for an abortion.

“Currently, there are no laws on the books that make it a crime or a civil liability for someone to help somebody get care that is perfectly legal where they get it,” Rushforth said.

But, Rushforth said the push of some state legislatures to strip individuals of the right to interstate travel for healthcare is concerning and should be of concern, not just for abortion rights supporters but anyone who cares about basic constitutional rights.

“We are seeing not only a public health emergency but a constitutional, civil and criminal law crisis as well. The ability to travel interstate is not only a fundamental right but has been protected in an entire canon of law. We should all be concerned about the attempt to criminalize the freedom of movement,” she said.

Rushforth said “we also live in an age of hyper state surveillance and accessibility of data.”

“As we see states and anti-abortion extremists attempt to criminalize access to legal healthcare, there are new tools at their disposal to track and monitor not only patients and providers but supporters as well. It’s a new challenge to our movement and many other civil rights are grappling with it today,” she said.

Lamunyon Sanford said that the abortion fund’s practice of flying in groups of abortion patients from parts of Texas have halted for now. NMRCRC began that effort in December of last year and kept up the effort through June until the court overturned Roe.

Related: Texas abortion patients flew to Albuquerque for a one-day clinic visit

“We just needed to take some time to make sure the changes we make are keeping our staff and volunteers and, most importantly, the abortion seekers safe,” she said.

But, she said, NMRCRC will soon resume and intends to continue as long as it can afford to do so.