As pandemic continues, abortion groups feel greater strain

With the coronavirus pandemic worsening — the state announced 40 new positive tests of COVID-19 Thursday and an additional death — access to abortion care gets increasingly complicated.

Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports reproductive health care, has allowed abortion clinics to remain open in New Mexico during the public health emergency. But abortion access has become more challenging in many areas of the country and that affects New Mexico, according to advocates.

Access to abortion limited in NM

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.

House panel votes down abortion bills

A legislative committee on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have restricted late-term abortions in New Mexico and ensured that minors seeking an abortion obtain parental support. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee also voted to stop a bill that would allow hospitals and medical professionals to opt out of performing an abortion for moral or religious reasons stalled in the committee. The 3-2 votes fell along party lines in both cases, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans. The action came as no surprise, given the House of Representatives’ recent support for House Bill 51, which would repeal an unenforceable 50-year-old law that made it a fourth-degree felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico. That measure cleared the House on a 40-29 vote, with six Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

Planned Parenthood expansion to El Paso will impact NM

Planned Parenthood is expanding to El Paso for the first time in nearly 10 years, which supporters say will make abortion access easier for women in Southern New Mexico. Marshall Martinez, the public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, told NM Political Report while it still isn’t convenient for people in Las Cruces to drive to El Paso, the new clinic will be an additional resource for southern New Mexico. “This would provide an additional point of access, closer than Albuquerque, which is needed for the community down there,” Martinez said. Planned Parenthood currently has two clinics that provide abortion services in New Mexico. One in Albuquerque, and the other in Santa Fe.

NM state law, the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion access

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.