Reproductive healthcare and abortion access may be profoundly personal decisions, but changes to public policy in New Mexico could generate repercussions that extend far beyond the most private experiences of women across the state. According to recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one-in-four women in the United States have had or will have an abortion by age 45. And since Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced in June that he would retire July 31, attention to a 50-year-old New Mexico law has intensified. Dormant since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the statute would go back into effect if Roe is overturned, meaning anyone who performs an abortion in New Mexico could be charged with a 4th-degree felony. Read this story’s companion piece, “Midterms could be key, with New Mexico’s abortion rights protections at a crossroads,” here.
The social stigma attached to abortion means that many people don’t talk about it openly, said Planned Parenthood of New Mexico CEO Vicki Cowart in a recent interview, but there are millions of women for whom it has played a part in their personal and family histories.
Periodic threats often prompt clinics that provide abortions to take stronger security measures than other types of health care clinics. But no clinic follows a uniform security policy per se. David Cohen, co-author of “Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Story of Anti-Abortion Terrorism,” spent three years interviewing 87 abortion providers in 34 states about the safety of their clinics. “At the outset, every clinic and every provider walks it differently,” Cohen said in an interview with NM Political Report. Each clinic, he said, must balance providing strong security without alienating its patients.
When Philip Leahy, John Rice and Christina Garza come to protest an Albuquerque clinic that provides abortions, they stand on a sidewalk across the parking lot. “We try to be here all the days that they are open,” Leahy said of Southwestern Women’s Options, which is open on weekdays during normal business hours. Clad with a scarf, a winter coat and gloves, Leahy explained on a recent chilly weekday that the clinic’s parking lot is private property, and thus he and his fellow protesters are not allowed to step on it. This keeps him at a distance from the clinic’s front door where patients enter. So his group, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, which opposes abortion, instead tries to wave over women entering the clinic to talk with them.