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Out-of-state abortion patients stress already sparse NM clinics

Planned Parenthood sign
Thomas Hawk
Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0), creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

As the U.S. Supreme Court appears set to weaken federal abortion protections, three out of New Mexico’s four neighboring states have recently passed laws limiting access to the procedure. Out-of-state patients seeking care in New Mexico are now putting pressure on an already sparse system.

Just this week, Oklahoma’s legislature passed a bill that would make performing abortions a felony in most cases. Last week, Arizona’s governor signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And in September, Texas restricted the procedure to before a heartbeat is detected.

Charlene Bencomo, executive director of the reproductive justice advocacy group Bold Futures New Mexico, says while out-of-state patients inundating abortion providers here is concerning, limited access is not a new problem.

“A lack of reproductive healthcare services, including abortion, in rural areas in New Mexico has been a real issue for a very long time,” Bencomo said in an online briefing Tuesday.

The only clinics in the state that provide procedural abortions are in Albuquerque. Those include the UNM Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood San Mateo Health Center and Southwestern Women’s Options. That means hours of potential travel for many New Mexicans, as medication abortions available elsewhere in the state are only an option for someone who’s been pregnant for 11 weeks or less.

The clinics in the state’s second and third largest counties – Women's Reproductive Clinic of New Mexico and Full Circle Health Center in Doña Ana County and Planned Parenthood Santa Fe Health Center in Santa Fe County – provide only abortion pills, not procedures.

Bencomo says as more out-of-state patients seek abortions here, New Mexicans won’t necessarily get priority to the limited procedural care available.

“It’s not like, you know, ‘you’re from New Mexico, we’re going to serve you first,’” she said. “They are handling it in the best ways that they can based on urgency, based on need,” she said of abortion providers in the state.

Bencomo says that while New Mexico has protected access to abortion, including last year’s repeal of a dormant ban, there is still considerable work to be done to address barriers.