Home New mexico state How New Mexico Is About to Become an Abortion Access Haven

How New Mexico Is About to Become an Abortion Access Haven

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Dr. Franz Theard in his office at the New Mexico Women’s Reproductive Clinic in Santa Teresa.Adrian Morrow/The Globe and Mail

In his nearly 50 years of performing abortions, Dr. Franz Theard has endured persistent bullying. Anti-abortion activists blocked his clinic, picketed his house and stormed into his waiting room, hurling abuse at patients through a megaphone. Her children were even bullied at school.

But Dr. Theard is not discouraged. A 73-year-old man, bearded and bespectacled, he says his long-held political principles will not allow him to back down.

“I’m on the left of Che Guevara”, he says laughing as he sits in his office at the Women’s Reproductive Clinic in New Mexico. “I am a lay humanist. I believe in one rule: treat people the way you would like to be treated.

Moreover, Dr. Theard has long provided his services in a place where they are particularly difficult to access. He spent most of his career in El Paso, Texas, even as a series of state laws made it increasingly difficult to keep a clinic open. Ultimately, he decamped one mile across the border to a suburban office park in New Mexico, where there are no restrictions on abortion.

Since last year, when Texas effectively banned the procedure after six weeks, demand for Dr. Theard’s help has skyrocketed. “In April 2021, we performed 180 abortions. Last month we did 280, he says. “People come from Houston, Dallas, they take eight hours to get here.”

This experience is a glimpse into the likely future of abortion in large swaths of the United States. A leaked draft Supreme Court decision shows that five conservative justices are considering overturning Roe v. Wade. If that happens, more than 20 states are set to enact abortion bans, and the cross-border work of providers like Dr. Theard will become increasingly vital.

It also highlights the pivotal role that New Mexico would play in preserving access.

A desert state of 2.1 million people, it is often overlooked as a beacon of reproductive rights, overshadowed by the metropolises of the northeast or the west coast. But New Mexico has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country, even though it borders four states – Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Utah – that have banned the procedure or plan to do so. This week, Oklahoma lawmakers passed the nation’s toughest law yet, banning all abortions from the moment of conception.

Anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision, the New Mexico legislature and governor last year proactively repealed the 1960s abortion ban, which would have come back into effect had Roe been overturned. The new state law allows abortion without restriction.

Micaela Lara Cadena, a state legislator who sponsored abortion legislation last year, says many of his colleagues doubted that a largely rural and often culturally conservative state would accept unfettered access to abortion. The key to proving otherwise, she says, was to bring the message to people like her: a Catholic and Hispanic mother of two.

She was turned away from mass, when men approached her to tell her she was not a true Catholic. But most people supported her efforts, she said. When she told her priest that she planned to sponsor the bill, he simply told her to vote according to her conscience.

New Mexico State Representative Micaela Lara Cadena in Las Cruces on May 20.Adrian Morrow/The Globe and Mail

“New Mexicans may have their own moral and religious beliefs and preferences regarding abortion, and still trust someone to make those private decisions for themselves. Pregnancy is sacred,” says Ms. Lara Cardena, 38 , as she watches her eldest daughter practice for the high school track team in Las Cruces, a city of 100,000 people flanked by bare, rugged mountains.

Hispanic and Indigenous community organizations played a central role in mobilizing voters are flooding town halls with Zoom and urging hesitant state lawmakers to support the bill.

When Ceci Pinon, a 42-year-old social worker, spoke out in favor of the law as a member of Strong Families New Mexico, a social policy advocacy group, she was able to address its importance from her personal experience. . Ms. Pinon became pregnant with her first child at age 14.

With her conservative parents, farm workers, abortion was not an option. She was also expelled from her school, which told her she was “setting a bad example” to other girls in her class, she says.

“I didn’t have the possibility of having an abortion at that time. I was a child taking care of a child,” recalls Ms. Pinon. “My daughter is now 27 years old. She has options. She makes her decisions. »

Nicole Martin, a New Mexico-based organizer with Indigenous Women Rising, says requests for help from her group’s abortion fund increased after the Texas law was passed. There were so many requests that the fund ran out last month, Ms. Martin says. He started accepting new requests for help last week.

Some states are proposing laws that would target these funds in an effort to prevent people from crossing state lines to get abortions. But Mrs. Martin, 30, swears her group will go nowhere.

“We are prepared to take on the legal risk and the financial risk to ensure that Indigenous peoples receive safe and equitable health care,” she says.

A similar level of determination drives Dr. Theard. A Haitian-American who arrived in the United States in 1964, he has performed abortions since 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade.

In a sign of sheer demand for his services, he says he’s even had people who denounce him in public come to him privately asking for help. “I performed abortions on the daughters of senators. They always come and say ‘I’m against it, but it’s a special case,’” he said.

Currently, it only offers medical abortion. He stopped performing surgical abortions after his longtime business partner died of COVID-19 in 2020, and he had to take on the additional duties of administering the clinic. But he hopes to find a younger doctor to join him and provide surgical services again. And he says he’s ready to expand his clinic to handle any post-Roe influx from out of state.

“We are here, we will help you. We encourage people to come,” he says. “I want to be known as a sanctuary.”

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