The Federal Drug Administration ruled on Thursday that it would permanently lift restrictions around abortion patients receiving medication abortion by mail. This means, for instance, that abortion patients who live in places such as rural New Mexico can receive mifepristone, the first of the two-drug abortion regime, by mail. The FDA has maintained a restriction on in-person pickup of mifepristone at a clinic since the agency approved the drug for abortion 21 years ago. Reproductive experts have said that was a political move as, after 21 years, there were clear indications that taking medication abortion up to 10 weeks of gestation is safe. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said by text message that the FDA’s decision is “good news” for patients but some restrictions for clinics still apply.
In a narrow ruling that leads to a limited way forward in the fight to stop Texas SB 8, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against one lawsuit, parsed the other and denied the Biden administration’s request to put Texas SB 8 law on hold. The Supreme Court heard two separate arguments in early November around Texas SB 8, which allows anyone to sue a provider or person who “aids and abets” a Texas abortion patient to receive an abortion in the state after six weeks of gestation. Reproductive rights officials who held a press conference after the high court’s decision on Friday spoke of the “chilling effect” this law has had on providers inside the state and the stress it has put on providers in other states, including New Mexico, to provide abortion care for patients coming from Texas in addition to the patients in their own states. Around 55,000 people in Texas receive an abortion in that state annually prior to the Texas law going into effect in early September. In New Mexico, around 3,000 people receive an abortion each year, on average.
The U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade or “effectively” overturn it, legal experts said on Wednesday after the court heard oral arguments on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The much-anticipated court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, went before the court Wednesday for a two-hour oral argument. The state of Mississippi banned abortion at 15 weeks in 2019 and asked the court specifically to overturn the 1973 landmark decision. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said that, after listening to the court Wednesday morning, it seemed clear that the justices, “regardless of the arguments presented by the attorneys today are pretty well settled in their minds on this issue.”
Six of the nine justices are conservative and several have spoken explicitly or made previous rulings indicating that they oppose abortion. “It was pretty clear by the questions the justices asked and the way they were talking to one another that we don’t have the size necessary to uphold Roe as it stands today,” Rushforth said.
Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, was once thrown out of a business club in Caspar, Wyoming, for being a woman. It was a different time then, one in which job interviewers didn’t hesitate to ask women if they planned to have children and, if so, would they keep working, she said. Now such questions would be considered discriminatory and, potentially, actionable but Cowart, who has been leading PPRM since 2003, said facing repeated discrimination as a young professional, reading feminist literature and participating as an activist in her off time is why the last half of her career has been devoted to ensuring pregnant people have access to abortion in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. Cowart announced earlier this fall her plans to retire. She said she intends to continue until the board has found a replacement.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday it would hear oral arguments regarding a restrictive Texas anti-abortion law on Nov. 1. But, on the same date, Oklahoma is expected to enact three highly restriction abortion laws. The laws are medically unnecessary, Adrienne Mansanares, chief experience officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told NM Political Report. Reproductive rights groups have sued Oklahoma and, while a judge struck down two of the original five anti-abortion laws earlier in October, the courts are still considering the other three under appeal.
As Texas abortion rights yo-yo in the courts, one Planned Parenthood doctor said the volume in patients coming from Texas has not changed. Last week a federal Texas judge placed a temporary injunction on SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks, at the U.S. Department of Justice’s request. The DOJ is suing Texas over the law. But within 48 hours after the injunction, the 5th US Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s injunction, making abortion illegal in the state of Texas, again, after six weeks gestation. According to national media, the DOJ has appealed and is asking the courts to reconsider placing an injunction on the ban.
Update: The federal Fifth Court of Appeals temporarily reinstated the ban on Friday, Oct. 8. A Texas federal court judge stayed the Texas six-week gestational abortion ban this week. The law went into effect on Sept. 1 and has created chaos in Texas for abortion care patients who now must travel hundreds or thousands of miles to a clinic out of state, including in New Mexico.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain clinics, which includes those in New Mexico, experienced a 130 percent increase in patients coming from Texas since August. The organization held a press conference on Monday alongside elected officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada to discuss how the six-week gestational abortion ban in Texas has impacted the health care provider across the three states. In New Mexico alone, Planned Parenthood clinics have served 50 Texas patients since the ban began on September 1, Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications for PPRM, said. Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive officer for PPRM, said the average wait time for an appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Mexico is now 21 days. She said Texas patients have had to travel, on average, 650 miles one-way to access abortion.
An abortion provider in New Mexico said the increase in patients from Texas will no longer be manageable if it continues in the coming weeks. Adrienne Mansanares, chief experience officer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told NM Political Report that the group’s clinics are “not in crisis right now.”
But she said they are “in an unhealthy place” and it “won’t be manageable in the coming weeks if we continue to see the percentage increase from Texas.”
Mansanares said of the roughly 3,000 abortions that take place in New Mexico annually, Planned Parenthood provides about 700 of them. “What we saw in the first week [of September] is what we typically see in a month,” she said. She said there are about 55,000 abortions in Texas each year. Abortion clinics in New Mexico cannot continue to absorb the need from Texas abortion patients indefinitely, she said.
In a tweet earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell equated abortion with eugenics. Herrell’s tweet on Monday was a response to a clip from an NBC broadcaster who was commenting that the state of Texas is “running over” women’s constitutional rights to obtain an abortion since that state’s six-week gestational ban went into effect at the beginning of September. “Of course, @JoeNBC is completely wrong. Abortion is not “enumerated” in the Constitution, specifically or otherwise, & its invention as a right in Roe v. Wade rests on garbage legal reasoning. America will be a better place when abortion joins eugenics on the ash heap of history,” she wrote in her tweet.