ByJolie McCullough and Neelam Bohra, The Texas Tribune |
“As Texans fill up abortion clinics in other states, low-income people get left behind” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. Two days after Texas’ new abortion restrictions went into effect, women’s health clinics in surrounding states were already juggling clogged phone lines and an increasing load of appointment requests from Texans. At a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an abortion provider said that on Tuesday, the day before the law’s enactment, every patient who had made an appointment online was from its neighbor state to the east. By Thursday, all of New Mexico’s abortion clinics were reportedly booked up for weeks, and a Dallas center had dispatched dozens of employees to help the much less populated state’s overtaxed system.
Reproductive rights advocates picked up six more votes in the state Senate. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Action Fund, called it “a really good night for abortion access in New Mexico.”
Democrats picked up three seats in the state Senate, according to unofficial results. Those seats are state SD 10, which Democrat Katy Duhigg won over Republican Candace Gould. State SD 20, which Democrat Martin Hickey took, defeating the Republican candidate and taking a seat formerly held by Republican William Payne. The Democrats also won state SD 23, with Democrat Harold Pope Jr., who took the seat when he defeated Republican incumbent Sander Rue.
While reproductive rights activists worry about the future of abortion rights in the state, some candidates say voters are particularly focused on the issue. With the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18 and President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, reproductive rights advocates’ efforts to repeal New Mexico’s 1969 law is now of even greater urgency for many. If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Mexico’s 1969 law, which criminalizes abortion, would again go into effect. Siah Correa Hemphill, a Democrat running for State Senate District 28 in southern New Mexico, said she has received several phone calls and emails from constituents in her district in recent weeks asking about her position on abortion rights. “I know it’s on the mind of many people.
When the New Mexico Legislature passed the 1969 law on abortion, it was the least restrictive version of the state’s previous abortion laws, but one advocates say would be too restrictive if it goes back into effect. Since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, and President Trump’s nominee of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, there is a heightened concern that Roe v. Wade could be overturned in the immediate future. If that happens before the state’s 1969 abortion law is repealed, the state could turn back the clock to the 51-year-old law. An attempt to repeal the 1969 law failed in the state Senate in 2019. Related: Senate rejects repealing currently unenforceable anti-abortion law
If it were to become the state’s law, enforcement would be a matter for each individual district attorney’s office, said Matt Baca, chief counsel for the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion rights Monday and struck down a Louisiana law in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, but the “win” could be short-lived, say abortion rights advocates. The 5-4 decision brought an end to the legal battle over whether Louisiana’s 2014 law, that forced abortion providers in that state to obtain admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, is constitutional. The court, through Justice Stephen Breyer’s opinion, noted that the Louisiana law poses a “substantial obstacle,” to women seeking abortion, offered no significant health-related benefits nor showed evidence of how the law would improve the health and safety of women. But, Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the more liberal wing of the court, wrote a concurrence in which he made clear he only voted in favor of June Medical Services because of precedent. The court decided an almost identical case involving a Texas Law four years ago with Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Within three years, as many as 25 million women of reproductive age could live in states without a single abortion provider – making New Mexico a critical state for women to travel for abortion care, say some abortion rights advocates. Vicki Cowart, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains president and chief executive officer, calls the situation an “impending national health crisis.” She said Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is getting ready for it. “It could happen nearly under the radar. It’ll be profound for women in those states. We are getting ready to be the provider of these patients coming to us (in New Mexico) from everywhere,” Cowart told NM Political Report Wednesday.
When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report.
When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.
During a sit-down earlier this month in the sparse Albuquerque administrative office for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, CEO Vicki Cowart wondered aloud if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision had lulled much of the public into taking legal abortion for granted. Here in New Mexico, abortion access has been solidly maintained by decades of activism by rights proponents and their collaborations with supportive elected officials. “Two generations of women have grown into adults with this not being an issue,” said Cowart. Yet two generations of women have seen gradual rollbacks in abortion rights and access in many other states across the country, where anti-abortion activists intent on ending the practice have been doggedly, methodically successful. Read this story’s companion piece, “NM state law, the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion access” here.
This week in the Legislature may see some debate regarding abortions and whether or not doctors should have a role in family discussions. Earlier this month, Gov. Susana Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her State of the State address. In addition to presenting her six-point-plan to bolster the state’s economy, she also called for legislators to tackle certain issues during the 30-day legislative session. She encouraged them to pass bills related to education reform and expanded criminal penalties. Legislators have introduced a handful of bills related to abortion, but she skirted the issue in her speech.
An announcement from Pope Francis declaring that all Catholic priests can continue to forgive women who have had abortions seems to be more symbolic and less canonical—at least in the United States. In an apostolic letter, or a formal decree, this week, Francis called on Catholic priests to continue forgiving women who have abortions after the Year of Mercy ended. “There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father,” Francis wrote. In New Mexico, a state with a heavily Catholic population, some welcomed the developments. But Catholics and other religious people who support abortion rights said the Church should further reform its stance on abortion rights.