September 19, 2023

Study: New Mexico had highest increase in abortion since 2020

Bill Moree

Abortion rights sit in, Washington D.C. 2022

Between January 2020 and June 2023, New Mexico saw a larger increase in abortion than any other state, according to a new report.

The Guttmacher Institute, a policy organization based in Washington D.C. that researches reproductive health, released a new interactive data map which shows increases in abortion state by state.

New Mexico saw 6,480 more abortions between January 2020 to June 2023. That amounts to a 220 percent increase.

Colorado, where abortion also remains legal, saw an 89 percent increase in abortion during the same period. New York state saw an increase of 18 percent. California experienced a 16 percent increase during that time.

Isaac Maddow-Zimet, a data scientist with the Guttmacher Institute, said from January 2023 to June 2023, New Mexico averaged  between 1,400 abortions to 1,700 abortions each month.  

By comparison, in 2019, there were about 2,700 abortions in New Mexico for the entire year.

Related: With 130 percent increase in Texas patients, New Mexico Planned Parenthood clinics have 21 day wait times

Maddow-Zimet said that while the increase includes both the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and the Texas six-week gestation ban enacted in September of 2021, it is important to remember that the increase in abortion goes back to January 2020, so the data is “not capturing Dobbs in isolation.”

He said many states saw an increase in abortion counts prior to the legal changes that began with Texas’ six week gestation ban. But he added that when that law went into effect it had “a seismic impact in the region.”

Maddow-Zimet said additional factors for the increase prior to the Texas gestation law and the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision could include the increase in availability of telehealth and the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have impacted people’s decisions to carry a pregnancy to term. He said the increase could also reflect the amount of support for abortion that exists in the state with the number of abortion fund providers.

“It’s a complicated mix of factors when it comes to the scale of increase in New Mexico,” he said.

Impact at UNM Hospital

Dr. Lisa Hoffler, executive medical director of the University of New Mexico Hospital Women’s Services and clinical vice chair of UNM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told NM Political Report that in April of 2020, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott deemed abortion to not fall under essential care during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic and shut down abortion clinics in Texas for about a month, UNM’s clinic experienced a small spike in abortion patients.

She said that, anecdotally, she saw during the early period of the pandemic a lot of fear in patients because no one then knew what pregnancy outcomes might be for someone who tested positive for the respiratory disease, which could have led to an increase in abortion patients.

After September 2021, when Texas enacted its six-week gestation ban, Hoffler said that UNM’s clinic saw a fivefold increase in abortions later in pregnancy. UNM’s clinic provides abortion up to 23 weeks and six days.

She said the clinic saw patients who were traumatized because they’d already been rejected by clinics elsewhere and, frequently, the patients believed they might be arrested when they returned to their home state.

“People came anyway, even though they thought they’d be arrested, because an abortion was that important,” Hoffler said.

Hoffler said she believes the reason New Mexico has seen the largest increase is because this state is the closest in driving distance to many states that have banned abortion.

She said UNM hired two new faculty to help handle the influx and the wait times have decreased so that the clinic can see a patient quickly, which is important with such a time sensitive procedure. More clinics have opened in New Mexico, as well, which helps with the overall volume of abortion patients.  

She said UNM’s clinic frequently sees patients traveling with the entire family for 16 or 17 hours one way to come to New Mexico for an abortion.

“It’s heartbreaking for me. This is very straightforward healthcare and OB-GYN’s know how to provide it but can’t [in other states] legally. Humans are resilient but we’re only seeing people who can make it. I don’t know what’s happening to people who can’t make it,” she said.

Hoffler said that now, after more than a year since the Dobbs decision, the clinic is able to provide quick appointments and has adjusted to the increase in flow. She said patients now arrive with less rejection trauma but many still fear being arrested for seeking an abortion out-of-state. Hoffler said the level of desperation in so many patients can be hard on providers and adds extra layers to the doctor-patient relationship. She said abortion patients are dying, getting sick and being harmed by the abortion bans in other states and doctors in other states reach out to UNM not knowing what to do.

“Doctors [in states where abortion is banned] are afraid to make a phone call even though they know it’s the right thing to do medically and they want to keep their license,” she said.

Hoffler said another result of the legal changes to abortion is that it has increased the importance of speaking out about the issue.

“It’s a critical and important part of healthcare and an important part of our lives. It’s important to talk about it,” Hoffler said.