This month, New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an Albuquerque-based abortion fund, has helped 28 patients get an abortion, up from 15 in September 2020 when fears of COVID-19 prevented travel and 21 in September 2019. And the month of September is not yet over, Brittany Defeo, New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice program manager, pointed out. The increase in demand is due to the Texas six-week gestational abortion ban that went into effect at the beginning of the month. Defeo said the coalition is the last abortion fund most patients apply to because what the coalition offers – help with accommodations and trips to the airport, bus or train station – are services needed by the most economically perilous who need an abortion later in pregnancy which requires an overnight stay. But because of the Texas law, the coalition is now seeing patients request their services even before 10 weeks of gestation because the patient needs to travel to New Mexico to take abortion medication.
A federal judge ruled earlier this week that two women who filed a lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not adequately show how a state emergency public health order requiring vaccines for certain activities violated their rights.
U.S District Court Judge Martha Vásquez denied a motion filed by the two women, which asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop one of the state’s public health orders that require New Mexico State Fair attendees and public health workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vásquez wrote that the two plaintiffs failed to show how they would face irreparable harm if the court did not issue an injunction.
“To obtain preliminary injunctive relief, Plaintiffs are required to prove that they are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of their claims, that they will suffer irreparable injury if the Court denies the requested injunction, that the balance of harms weighs in their favor, and that the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest,” Vásquez wrote. “Plaintiffs fail to satisfy their burden as to any, let alone all, of these factors.”
One plaintiff works as a nurse for Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque and the other is a mother of children who were set to show livestock at the New Mexico State Fair. Both women claimed that the public health order violated their state and federal constitutional rights. Both women also maintained that they should not be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine that is approved under an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Shortly after the suit was filed, the FDA fully authorized the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19.
“Accordingly, the provisions of the [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act] quoted by Plaintiff, which are applicable only to medical products under an [Emergency Use Authorization], are not applicable to the administration of the Pfizer vaccine to individuals 16 years of age and older,” Vásquez wrote.
Several elected New Mexico officials signed onto a letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking for the end of border expulsions under Title 42. Title 42 is a program started under former President Donald Trump which has continued under President Joe Biden. Under Title 42, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expels asylum seekers at the border rather than allowing them to enter the country and go through the process of applying for asylum in the U.S.
Under Biden, some exemptions became available though CBP still turned away the majority who requested asylum at a port of entry. But Katie Hoeppner, a spokesperson for ACLU-New Mexico, told NM Politlcal Report in an email that the situation “is now deeply troubling because there is no way for people seeking asylum to safely approach ports of entry and request protection, no matter how vulnerable they are.”
The letter states that allowing asylum seekers to enter into the U.S. is not only a legal responsibility but that it can be done safely. The letter states that recent research shows that 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings in 2019.
Kahleel Alkhalil, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee living in Albuquerque with his wife and eight children, has not been able to receive government relief he qualifies for because he speaks Arabic. Alkhalil is one of thousands of New Mexicans who are eligible for pandemic relief who speak a language other than English or Spanish, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Because the nonnative speakers do not possess either English or Spanish skills, they are often unable to access government assistance they qualify for during the COVID-19 pandemic because state government documents and systems do not offer alternative language choices, Jimenez said. A recent New Mexico Voices for Children report, Eligible but Excluded, said that federal law requires state agencies to provide “meaningful access” to people who speak languages other than English but many state agencies in New Mexico have no plans in place to improve language access. This makes breaking a system of economic hardship difficult and is inequitable, the report states.
Modeling from Los Alamos National Labs for the state of New Mexico shows that the current surge of COVID-19 cases could peak soon. That’s according to state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross, who was one of three top state health officials who spoke during a press conference on Wednesday. “We all need to continue doing our part with all of the mitigation measures, so masking indoors, avoiding crowds, every eligible person, please get out and get a vaccine, etc.,” she said. She said it was a “possible plateau” but the state would need more data to make sure it wasn’t a blip in the data. Vaccinations remained a key point for Ross and other officials.
With federal unemployment assistance ending in New Mexico on Sept. 4, Albuquerque resident Rhiannon Chavez-Ross worries she could lose her house. A single mom with two children, Chavez-Ross lost her party and event business when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She said she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of less than $1,000 for her business last year and she has been on unemployment benefits since the early days of the virus’ spread. But, she said she has had to supplement her unemployment relief with money from her savings.
A University of New Mexico Cancer Center oncologist said she and other providers are seeing an increase in the amount of people diagnosed with breast cancer in the state. Dr. Ursa Brown-Glaberman, medical oncologist at the UNM Cancer Comprehensive Center, said the increase in cancer diagnosis began in fall of 2020. She said providers “saw what we expected; a whole lot of cancer out there not being detected.”
“As clinicians, we saw a huge wave of diagnosis. We were incredibly busy [in the] fall [of 2020] and spring [of 2021] and there were more patients than we normally see with new breast cancers. We saw women who skipped mammograms for a year.
The New Mexico Department of Health is encouraging women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to get vaccinated because COVID-19 during pregnancy can lead to complications. DOH issued a statement Thursday reminding the public the importance of vaccinations against COVID-19 for pregnant people. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued guidance that vaccines are safe for pregnant people. The overall risk for severe illness is low, according to the CDC, but pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to suffer severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to those who are not pregnant.
Severe illness can include hospitalization, intensive care, ventilator use or other breathing assistance and, possibly, death, according to the statement. The CDC issued a warning that pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at an increased risk for preterm birth and could be at an increased risk for other adverse pregnancy outcomes comparable to pregnant people who do not contract COVID-19.
The growing number of COVID-19 cases and the strain on hospitals is a concern in New Mexico, with crisis standards of care likely to come in a week. So much so that currently there are currently fifty people on a waitlist to find an ICU bed, Acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s a completely new phenomenon,” Scrase said, who also said those on the waiting list are very sick individuals who need to be in the ICU. “It’s now. It’s temporary and I think it’s well-meaning people trying not to close off all hope, but it’s moving slowly,” Scrase said.
A federal lawsuit against New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, over one of her public health orders, is moving forward. But the judge in the case dismissed a request to issue a temporary restraining order to block vaccine requirements for health care workers and state fair attendees.
U.S. District Court Judge Martha Vázquez, through an order on Monday, fast-tracked the lawsuit against Lujan Grisham, but said there was not enough justification to warrant a restraining order. The suit was filed by two New Mexico residents who argued that a recent public health order requiring vaccines for certain activities violates both the New Mexico and U.S. Constitution.
In her order, Vázquez wrote that the two plaintiffs, Jennifer Blackford of Rio Rancho and Talisha Valdez of Union County, still have options under the public health order.
“While alleging that the [public health order] would prevent Blackford from retaining her employment and Valdez from entering the State Fair, the Complaint ignores the existence of the exemptions to the PHO’s vaccination requirements,” Vázquez wrote. “As noted above, the PHO allows for three exemptions to the vaccination requirements for hospital workers and State Fair attendees, including an exemption that can be supported by a mere statement as to the manner in which the administration of a vaccination conflicts with the beliefs of the individual.”
The public health order, in part, requires proof of vaccination to attend the New Mexico State Fair. It also requires healthcare workers to provide proof of vaccination.
But the order also provides exemptions and an alternative to getting vaccinated.