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Knowing that this was coming did not allay the apprehensions of New Mexico abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates about Roe V. Wade’s end.
For years, as other states tightened restrictions on abortion, the impoverished, largely rural state with a long history of lack of access to health care has seen a growing number of out-of-state patients seeking services at its handful of clinics. Demand skyrocketed last year after Texas lawmakers banned abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy, and it is expected to rise further after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that there is no had no right to an abortion.
In Texas and other southern states, most abortions ceased immediately after the ruling, cutting off access to millions of women of childbearing age in their home states and making New Mexico the safe haven. closer for abortion for much of the United States. . Out-of-state providers have already begun to move into the state, seeking to provide abortion care.
Operators of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, at the center of the High Court’s decision, hope to open the doors to a new clinic in southern New Mexico near El Paso in the coming weeks. And abortion rights advocates in the state say they’ve heard from a plethora of providers and funders who want to increase access to abortion in New Mexico for out-of-state patients. .
But abortion providers and advocates in Texas’ western neighbor say the state will never be able to fully meet the increased need for care because hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the most vulnerable women will be unable to make the trip. And while they welcome additional resources, advocates worry that some providers may want to focus solely on abortion when they are left to continue a decades-long struggle to increase New Mexicans’ access to services. comprehensive reproductive health services.
“I have experienced a lack of access to basic reproductive health care, for things like pap smears, for most of my life,” said Charlene Bencomo, executive director of Bold Futures, an advocacy group rights of women and peoples of New Mexico. of color. “So now to see that people are so eager to provide a very specific service like abortion care seems opportunistic and disconnected from the real needs that are happening here in the community.”
“We heard over and over again: Yes, we want access to abortion care. And we need to access and deserve to have access to all of these other services that accompany reproductive health care,” she added.
Last year, New Mexico repealed its pre-Roe ban on abortions, and Democrats who control the state legislature and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham have pledged to protect abortion rights in the country. ‘State. Republican contesting Grisham in the November gubernatorial election, a former TV weatherman who is behind in the pollssaid Friday He supports abortion up to 15 weeks or in case of rape or incest. The Texas ban does not allow such exceptions.
New Mexico allows late-term abortions, does not require teenage girls to obtain parental approval, and does not impose a waiting period. But the state has only three clinics offering surgical abortions, all in Albuquerque. Three other clinics offer abortion medication, two in the southern part of the state, and some telemedicine companies offer services to people with a New Mexico mailing address. (It’s unclear how many private practices also offer medication or surgical abortions.)
State resources are limited in part because of its size. New Mexico has about 2 million people, compared to more than 29 million in Texas. In 2020, New Mexico providers performed fewer than 6,000 abortions, about one-tenth the number in Texas, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
New Mexico’s numbers have already jumped and are expected to continue to rise.
Since the last restrictions on abortion in Texas went into effect in September, Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico have served about 1,700 patients from the neighboring state, a spokesperson for the organization said on Friday. of a press conference. That’s compared to about 400 Texas patients in a similar time frame before the restrictions.
Local abortion funds have also grown, with more volunteers and many more clients. Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said that because of their faith, her organization has for decades helped vulnerable people who have chosen to have abortions get transportation, hotel rooms and other care items.
She said that since the start of the pandemic and with Texas restrictions, the number of people asking for help has more than tripled.
“We started providing hands-on support because New Mexico is a very rural state and people needed help getting to clinics in Albuquerque,” she said earlier this week. “Our work has primarily focused on helping out-of-state people who need to travel to New Mexico.”
But the sudden growth in resources raises concerns. Some reproductive rights advocates worry that anti-abortion activists are trying to infiltrate their programs in bad faith. Sanford said her organization is focused on screening new volunteers, both to encourage help and to ensure the safety and privacy of people seeking abortions.
And other advocates worry that new resources coming into the state will be short-lived or undermine the progress residents have worked for decades to help local undocumented women, Indigenous communities and other people of color who have long had no access to reproductive health care. Local abortion providers and reproductive health advocates have created a resource guide that they hope new providers and funders will use to help them continue to fight for equitable access to abortion across the country. State.
“We worked for years to establish what is now this refuge,” Bencomo said. “And we don’t want people to come in, get out of it and then leave when it’s no longer favourable.”
Advocates also point out that even if a swell of resources floods the state to help provide full-spectrum reproductive health care, it won’t be enough.
“States that have protected reproductive freedom are doing all they can to preserve and expand access in our states,” said Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “But the reality is that no matter how many providers, no matter how many health facilities, no matter how extensive our care, they will never be able to meet the need created by the Supreme Court and anti-abortion extremists. . And it’s going to hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest. »
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