So far, COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, has not impacted abortion care in New Mexico, but at least one advocate said the virus’ spread likely will affect the future of it. Whitney Phillips, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains vice president of communications and brand experience, told NM Political Report by email Friday that the organization expects to see problems to occur as the global pandemic continues. “As states surrounding our region have been systematically shutting down access to reproductive health care, we’ve seen women traveling to New Mexico for care for some time now. While we haven’t begun to see the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic in our health centers, we believe it will happen,” Phillips wrote. Rachel Lorenzo, a co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, which provides an abortion fund for Native people in the U.S. and Canada, said that as far as traveling goes for abortion care, there is “no fear,” for Indigenous people, despite the shutting down of schools, public events and public officials advice not to travel.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday for a Louisiana abortion law that could affect the entire country, including New Mexico. The nine justices on the court were asked to consider whether a Louisiana law that prohibits doctors who do not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to provide abortions conflicts with an identical Texas law the high Court struck down in 2016. The difference between the Texas case and the Louisiana one is who is sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court bench. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the liberal wing of the court in 2016 and the court struck down the Texas law. But since the U.S. Congress appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the bench in 2018 after a controversial hearing, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights groups both anticipate that the 2016 ruling could be overturned.
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.
While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.
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.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has served as a swing vote in the U.S. Supreme Court on some issues including the decision not to overturn Roe v. Wade, but a new, more conservative replacement could change that. If the ruling is overturned, each state would decide on the legality of abortion. New Mexico is one of ten states where a pre-Roe law means abortion would be illegal if the landmark case were overturned. Overturning Roe v. Wade has been a conservative goal for decades and Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins told NPR this week that Kennedy’s retirement pushed them on the brink of success. “In New Mexico, we have an old statute on the books from pre Roe v. Wade,” explained State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains says they received enough donations to keep its Farmington health center open. Five months ago, the organization announced the Farmington location would be one of three in the state to close by this fall. “We cannot begin to express our gratitude to the people of Farmington and their commitment to reproductive health care access in New Mexico,” Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said in a statement. “We know how important access to reproductive care is for our rural communities, and today we celebrate being able to keep this health center open, thus ensuring access to care for women, men, and young people in Farmington and the surrounding areas.”
The health center does not perform surgical abortions. In May, the organization announced it needed to close three health centers in New Mexico, including locations in Farmington, Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
The Planned Parenthood affiliate that represents New Mexico and other Rocky Mountain states is joining a federal lawsuit against an organization that distributed videos in an attempt to discredit the women’s healthcare provider. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast announced on Wednesday they would join various Planned Parenthood affiliates from California and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a federal civil lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress and others over videos that, when edited, appeared to show Planned Parenthood workers agreeing to sell fetal tissue. Vicki Cowart, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, cited the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. “Words have an impact. You can’t implicitly condone violence without consequence,” Cowart said.
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.
After a deadly attack last week that left three dead and nine wounded, Planned Parenthood will rebuild and reopen its Colorado Springs office. Vicki Cowart, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, made the pledge Wednesday evening in Albuquerque at a vigil for the women’s health provider. “We will rebuild that building, rebuild the lives of the folks who went through that terrible afternoon,” Cowart told supporters at Albuquerque’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. “And we will open, we will continue to provide wonderful life-saving, high quality reproductive health care to our community there and across our region and across our country no matter what.”
Cowart oversees a region of Planned Parenthood clinics that includes both Colorado and New Mexico. In an interview, Cowart said she wasn’t sure how long rebuilding the location would take.