ByJolie McCullough and Neelam Bohra, The Texas Tribune |
“As Texans fill up abortion clinics in other states, low-income people get left behind” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. Two days after Texas’ new abortion restrictions went into effect, women’s health clinics in surrounding states were already juggling clogged phone lines and an increasing load of appointment requests from Texans. At a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an abortion provider said that on Tuesday, the day before the law’s enactment, every patient who had made an appointment online was from its neighbor state to the east. By Thursday, all of New Mexico’s abortion clinics were reportedly booked up for weeks, and a Dallas center had dispatched dozens of employees to help the much less populated state’s overtaxed system.
This week members of Congress introduced legislation into both chambers that would codify Roe v. Wade into law if it passes. HR 3755, more commonly known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would protect a person’s ability to terminate a pregnancy and would protect a provider’s ability to provide abortion services. Reproductive healthcare advocates believe the bill, which has been introduced by members of Congress, has greater urgency this year because of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear next year. Related: The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion gestational ban, will be the first test of Roe v. Wade with the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Many in the reproductive healthcare community believe Roe v. Wade could be overturned or become a law in name only as a result. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.
With more than 500 pieces of anti-abortion legislation under consideration in state legislatures around the country, New Mexico’s passage of SB 10, which decriminalized abortion, bucked the nationwide trend. Only one other state passed abortion rights legislation this year. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider and rule on an unconstitutional abortion ban in the next few years, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains President and Chief Executive Officer Vicki Cowart called the passage and signing of New Mexico’s bill to repeal an abortion ban “critical,” and a “key to protecting reproductive rights.”
Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
Cowart told NM Political Report by email that this year, Virginia is the only other state that has passed a bill expanding abortion access in 2021. But since the beginning of the year, 12 states have passed anti-abortion legislation, according to a Planned Parenthood report. There are a few other states with pro-reproductive legislation under consideration, Robin Marty, author of “Handbook for a Post-Roe America” and “The End of Roe v. Wade,” said.
New Mexico women who need contraception are likely safe for now despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision which will allow private companies to opt out of providing insurance coverage for it, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. A recent law passed in New Mexico enables women in the state to continue contraceptive coverage despite the court’s decision which now enables private companies to deny contraception coverage by citing moral or religious objections. But, Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney for the ACLU-NM warned, the future is uncertain. “It doesn’t mean we’re fully insulated from future issues related to this,” she said. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision on Wednesday in the case, Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion rights Monday and struck down a Louisiana law in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, but the “win” could be short-lived, say abortion rights advocates. The 5-4 decision brought an end to the legal battle over whether Louisiana’s 2014 law, that forced abortion providers in that state to obtain admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, is constitutional. The court, through Justice Stephen Breyer’s opinion, noted that the Louisiana law poses a “substantial obstacle,” to women seeking abortion, offered no significant health-related benefits nor showed evidence of how the law would improve the health and safety of women. But, Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the more liberal wing of the court, wrote a concurrence in which he made clear he only voted in favor of June Medical Services because of precedent. The court decided an almost identical case involving a Texas Law four years ago with Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
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.
During a sit-down earlier this month in the sparse Albuquerque administrative office for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, CEO Vicki Cowart wondered aloud if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision had lulled much of the public into taking legal abortion for granted. Here in New Mexico, abortion access has been solidly maintained by decades of activism by rights proponents and their collaborations with supportive elected officials. “Two generations of women have grown into adults with this not being an issue,” said Cowart. Yet two generations of women have seen gradual rollbacks in abortion rights and access in many other states across the country, where anti-abortion activists intent on ending the practice have been doggedly, methodically successful. Read this story’s companion piece, “NM state law, the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion access” here.
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.
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.