In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) case that overturned Roe v. Wade, it has become clear that access to legal abortion in the United States is in grave danger. As it stands, most abortions are now banned in at least twelve states, with more bans expected to go into effect in the coming weeks and months. By turning the issue of abortion rights back to the states, the Supreme Court has put the reproductive freedom of the roughly 40 million women of reproductive age who live in states hostile to abortion rights in jeopardy. However, there are a number of levers that states can use to protect and expand access to abortion, whether that is expanding prescriptive authority, removing reporting requirements, or implementing state coverage mandates.
Spotlight on New Mexico
There are roughly half a million women of reproductive age in New Mexico who may at some point need an abortion. That is not counting those living in neighboring states that are less friendly to abortion access, such as Texas, Oklahoma, or Arizona. People from these states have already been traveling across state lines in order to access care in New Mexico, even before the Dobbs decision—especially those from Texas since the state’s six-week abortion ban went into effect in 2021 and those from Oklahoma, where abortion was banned in May. It must be emphasized that, as in all states across the United States, the people that are most negatively impacted by the fall of Roe v. Wade and the ensuing unraveling of abortion rights are women and birthing people of color and low-income people.
In 2020, there were six clinics in New Mexico providing abortion care and only three of the clinics—all located in Albuquerque—offered procedural abortion care. The other New Mexico clinics offer medication abortion, which is highly effective and safe up to eleven to twelve weeks of pregnancy, but not everyone wants to opt for medication abortion and there are a number of reasons why people may want or need procedural care. This leaves those patients—especially those traveling from out of state who may have had to delay their abortion care due to logistical challenges such as finding child care, taking time off from work, or saving up the money for transportation and lodging needed to make the trip to New Mexico and paying for their abortion care—with limited options for clinics that can accommodate them for the type of care they need. Fortunately, some clinics from other states more hostile to abortion, such as Whole Woman’s Health from Texas and Jackson Women’s Health from Mississippi, are relocating to New Mexico and will be offering procedural abortion in addition to other much needed full spectrum reproductive health services in locations with close proximity to the Texas border.
In New Mexico, a number of proactive abortion policies do exist. State Medicaid funds cover abortion; abortion is not restricted based on gestational age; there are no parental consent requirements; there are no waiting periods; and qualified health care providers outside of physicians can perform abortions. In 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation to repeal a New Mexico state law that would have criminalized abortion providers upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In 2022, Governor Lujan Grisham signed an executive order to protect medical providers in New Mexico from attempts at legal retribution, establishing that New Mexico would not cooperate with extradition attempts from other states.
However, while there are no legal barriers to abortion in New Mexico, there are logistical issues preventing equitable access to care. With most of New Mexico being rural, roughly 90 percent of counties in the state still lack an abortion provider, and so physically accessing a clinic and affording the travel and lodging often required for making the trip to the nearest clinic—which could be up to hundreds of miles away—are major barriers for those living in New Mexico and seeking abortion care.
Additional Levers for Protecting and Expanding Access
Following the Dobbs decision, there are a number of people of reproductive age living in nearby states who may now rely upon New Mexico for abortion access. This was the case even before the Supreme Court decision. Since the Texas six-week ban went into effect in 2021, New Mexico’s Planned Parenthood clinics have served roughly 1,700 patients from Texas, a stark increase compared to the 400 Texas patients they saw in a comparable time frame prior to the Texas ban going into effect. A continued influx of people from other states also creates access challenges for New Mexico residents seeking abortion care, as wait times for appointments at clinics have increased to three to four weeks. Providers have expressed concerns about being able to meet the skyrocketing demand. In this environment, there are some actions that the New Mexico state government can take in order to bolster equitable access to abortion care:
- Explicitly enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution through the New Mexico State Legislature. Enshrining the right to abortion in the state constitution is important because, while New Mexico does legally protect access to abortion, constitutional amendments are more secure protections than laws, which can more easily change with the political winds.
- Increase state funds directed to clinics. While Governor Lujan Grisham has been a lauded partner in the movement for reproductive rights in New Mexico, there is still more that can be done to bolster and expand access to abortion care through the allocation of state funds. Additional funding should be allocated toward improving security outside clinics, expanding and staffing facilities in more rural parts of the state, and offsetting travel costs for those traveling long distances to access care. Examples that New Mexico should look to in other states include Oregon’s $15 million reproductive health equity fund and the New York governor’s executive action directing $35 million toward increasing staff and security at abortion clinics.
In addition to these measures specifically for lawmakers, advocates and nonprofit organizations can help facilitate equitable access to abortion care by highlighting the critically important role that abortion funds and independent clinics have played and will continue to play in the absence of Roe.
Even with legal access, abortion is still often out of reach for many people. Abortion funds make accessing care financially possible for those who may not be able to afford it otherwise. The Mariposa Fund and the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice work to provide financial, logistical, and emotional support to those seeking abortions not only in New Mexico, but also across the South and Southwest. The Mariposa Fund recognizes the extraordinary barriers that may exist for undocumented people who are trying to obtain abortion care—such as criminalization, lack of health insurance, economic insecurity, linguistic barriers, and xenophobia—and works to provide financial support for undocumented people. The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helps people pay for lodging, transportation, and food when they come to New Mexico for abortion care.
Independent clinics are where three out of five patients in the United States go to access abortion care. They are community-based clinics staffed by highly trained health care professionals that provide time-sensitive abortion services, often to low-income pregnant people or those with the fewest resources to access care. In New Mexico, the Full Circle Health Center is an independent clinic offering abortion care.
Reproductive justice (RJ) groups are also important voices to uplift in the fight for abortion rights. The RJ movement was started by and is led by women of color and uses holistic approaches to achieving health equity and justice for all people. In New Mexico, Bold Futures has worked to build reproductive justice by and for women and people of color for over twenty years.
In the days, weeks, and months following the Dobbs decision, proactive state-level policy efforts and community care in the form of uplifting abortion funds, independent clinics, and RJ organizations in order to protect and expand abortion access will be necessary to accommodate the influx of out-of-state patients seeking care from states where abortion is expected to become criminalized. In a post-Roe world, everyone still deserves access to safe, equitable, and compassionate abortion care, regardless of what state they live in.