CLOVIS, N.M. – The sanctuary in Grace Covenant Reformed Church was packed. People stood shoulder to shoulder wherever they could – near the stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, behind the neatly lined rows of chairs that serve as pews, against a wall covered in crosses made from painted wood, wire, glass and ceramic red chiles. Bibles and hymnals rested under every seat, but they weren’t used that Monday night last September. There was no sermon, because this wasn’t a church service.
Residents of Clovis, a town of some 40,000 people a mere 20-minute drive to the Texas state line, crammed into this little brick building that night to discuss a plan of action to ban abortion. Just three months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that had legalized abortion in the U.S. for almost 50 years.
New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general who filed an amicus brief on Tuesday in support of a lawsuit against the state of Idaho due to a state law aimed at curbing efforts to help Idaho minors who seek an out-of-state abortion. The Idaho law could have repercussions for individuals in other states, such as New Mexico, where abortion is legal and safe. New Mexico has no barriers for minors who are 14 years old or older to receive abortion care. The amicus brief cites the danger that some minors face if they must seek parental consent for an abortion. Advocates of abortion care call parental consent TRAP laws [Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers] which are intended to place barriers in the way of care.
But Idaho has enacted a law that would criminalize individuals in other states where abortion is legal if those individuals help an Idaho minor seek an abortion.
Denise Lang-Browne, 72 of La Luz, has spent 22 years protesting for women’s rights and against other issues including Operation: Iraqi Freedom and misinformation during the first waves of the AIDS epidemic. “Because how I saw it was often so different from the people. So it took me that long. I’m so grateful for younger people who are not waiting (until) 50,” Lang-Browne said. “When I have a right to say, this is how I see it.
A week ago this coming Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade and upending nearly 50 years of precedent. But the story really starts before June 24, 2022. Abortion is legal in New Mexico and remains so in part because advocates began working years ago to ensure that it would continue to be legal in the event the political makeup of the court changed. Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of abortion fund provider New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said that in October of 2020, when the U.S. Senate confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, she knew “we would lose Roe.”
“We were anticipating it as far back as that. We started comparing it to a natural disaster, though this is a created disaster,” she said.
As New Mexico continues to be a state that offers legal abortion services, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains opened a new clinic in Las Cruces in May and expanded services at its Farmington location to include medication abortion. Adrienne Mansanares, chief executive officer and president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the new Las Cruces clinic began seeing patients and offering medication abortion up to 11 weeks the second week of May. The Farmington Planned Parenthood clinic began offering medication abortion a week later. The Albuquerque Planned Parenthood, which has been planning a larger building for a few years, is expecting to open its new and expanded clinic in August, Mansanares, told NM Political Report. In the current abortion landscape, safety is a constant consideration.
Despite abortion in New Mexico remaining legal and recent legislation to further protect care, municipalities and counties have passed more anti-abortion ordinances than other states that are considered pro-abortion. Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, told NM Political Report that attempts to pass similar ordinances have occurred in other states but no other state has had as many locales pass anti-abortion ordinances as New Mexico that are pro-abortion. Her group monitors anti-abortion ordinances passed at the local level around the U.S.
The town of Edgewood is the latest of six locales in New Mexico that have passed anti-abortion ordinances. The city council passed the ordinance at the end of an eight-hour public meeting last month. When asked if she thought New Mexico has become the new battleground for abortion rights, Miller said that “might be giving these things too much credence.”
“A very small proportion of these kinds of extreme measures are up against an overwhelming degree of support and elected officials are taking affirmative steps at the state level to not only safeguard access but also to expand it,” she said.
In an unprecedented time in the reproductive healthcare landscape, one new Albuquerque abortion provider called providing abortions in the U.S. human rights work. Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer for Whole Women’s Health, talked to NM Political Report at length about what it took to relocate from Texas, where the nonprofit organization operated clinics in four cities, to Albuquerque last month.
Whole Women’s Health, which previously ran clinics in the Texas cities of Austin, Fort Worth, McAllen and McKinney, opened its first clinic in Albuquerque near the airport on March 23.
Whole Women’s Health is largely associated with Texas because it launched a lawsuit in 2013 to litigate a state TRAP [Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers] law requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court heard Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt and opined that the state restriction was medically unnecessary and ruled in favor of Whole Women’s Health. In addition to Texas, the provider also operates clinics in Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana and now, for the first time, New Mexico. Whole Women’s Health is part of a growing trend of abortion providers opening or relocating to New Mexico, which is now considered a safe haven state for abortion rights. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pledge of $10 million to help open a full-spectrum reproductive healthcare clinic in Las Cruces was part of the capital outlay bill, in this past legislative session.
But the road was long to get here, Hagstrom Miller said.
“It’s been a really challenging year,” she said.“We have clinics or programs in six states so we’re not only in Texas.
The City of Eunice is suing state officials in an effort to maintain its anti-abortion ordinance despite a recent state law enacted to end such maneuvers, but the legal argument may not hold water.
But the city’s argument relies on a 150-year-old law that the U.S. Supreme Court made null and void in 1965, University of New Mexico Law Professor Joshua Kastenberg told NM Political Report. This law is known as the Comstock Act, which prohibited “abortifacients,” drugs used to induce abortions, from being sent through the U.S. Postal Service. The city of Eunice’s legal filing earlier this week states that when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, it made the Comstock Act of 1873 no longer enforceable. The city’s filing also states that since the court overturned Roe last year, the Comstock Act is now enforceable again.
Kastenberg said that, while he wouldn’t call this a frivolous lawsuit, he also wouldn’t call it a winning one. He said that the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling on Griswold v. Connecticut, not Roe v. Wade, is what made the Comstock Act null and void.
Two separate lawsuits and decisions issued on the same day last week regarding the Federal Drug Administration and its approval and rules around the abortion medication mifepristone has caused confusion over the drug’s legality in the day since then, but a federal district judge in Washington state clarified the drug’s status as legal in New Mexico late on Thursday. Washington state federal district Judge Thomas Rice clarified that his decision last week to further lift FDA regulations on mifepristone will remain in effect in those 18 jurisdictions, including New Mexico, regardless of the conflicting decision released by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals late Wednesday night. Rice issued his clarification that his decision holds true for the 17 states and the District of Columbia less than 24 hours after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, determined that the FDA must return to how it regulated mifepristone prior to 2016. The attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia sued the FDA earlier this year asking the agency to lift its remaining restrictions on the abortion medication mifepristone. Rice, in eastern Washington, ruled last Friday in favor of the plaintiffs but his ruling came on the same day as Texas federal district Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s rule against the FDA restricting mifepristone.
The day before the deadline to sign bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the capital outlay bill, which includes a $10 million pledge to build a full-spectrum reproductive health clinic in Las Cruces. HB 505 contains $1.2 billion worth of projects to be built across the state. Among those is Lujan Grisham’s $10 million pledge to build a full-spectrum reproductive health care clinic in Las Cruces. Lujan Grisham announced the pledge last summer, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade when it ruled against a Mississippi abortion clinic that provided abortions up to 16 weeks. Several organizations have partnered to begin discussions on the future clinic.