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Coalition outlines priorities for state-funded reproductive health clinic in Las Cruces

Charles Edward Miller
Wikimedia Commons

Stephanie Murillo is a staff midwife at Luna Tierra Casa de Partos, a birthing center in El Paso, and in late April, she gave a tour of the facility to about 20 people, many of whom work with reproductive healthcare in New Mexico.

“This is the living room-comedor and kitchen, and it’s all accessible to our clients, so the family can be cooking, or they can be sitting here, laying here, if they want some privacy,” Murillo said.

The center is in a house on a residential block, and it features soft colors, comfortable furniture and local art. One piece was even made by a client.

Murillo said a huge focus here is providing culturally aware and accessible care to people of color in the community, including people of Mexican and Indigenous descent, who she said often face racism, language barriers and pushback on religious or cultural practices in hospitals.

“It’s a transition in life, and in some cultures, especially [from] an Indigenous perspective, it’s ceremony. So, it’s a very protected space,” she said.

Everyone taking the tour is a member of an advisory group, here to get ideas for a full-spectrum reproductive healthcare center in Las Cruces associated with the University of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, New Mexico has absorbed many new patients from neighboring states that ban abortion. That rise in demand is now influencing what reproductive healthcare looks like in the state, which was already struggling to meet the needs of its existing communities.

As more abortion providers set up shop in New Mexico, community organizers say they won’t have the trust of the established communities around them if they only provide abortion services, especially those serving mostly out-of-state patients.

But a welcoming center with a wide range of services, including abortion as well as contraception, prenatal care, Pap smears and other health screenings, could help fill a void for people who’ve had limited or no access to quality care in the state, including communities of color and trans patients.

“I think folks need to see it’s possible,” said Strong Families New Mexico Policy Director Adriann Barboa, a member of the core group working on the center. Her organization partnered with another policy advocacy group, Bold Futures, to assemble the advisory board for the facility to be built in Doña Ana County.

She said it was important to her that the advisory board see that they don’t have to start from scratch in creating warm, inclusive care.

The board includes doulas, midwives, community members and advocates for Black, Indigenous and LGBTQI communities. Over a weekend of meetings and outings, they laid out exactly what they think the center will need, so the core group can use that input in finding a space and calculating the overall price tag.

But the work on the center began a few years ago.

Strong Families and Bold Futures also led the push culminating in 2021 to repeal a 1969 ban on abortion. That move happened months before the Supreme Court restricted access to reproductive health care by the Dobbs decision, giving New Mexico a firm-footing as a state that protected abortion access as Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“As soon as we passed that, we knew that that meant providers were going to want to be coming to New Mexico,” Barboa said.

She said she and her colleagues wanted to make sure people with the least access to healthcare were spoken for. That includes rural New Mexicans as well as communities who rely on the federal government for healthcare and therefore don’t have direct access to abortion, like Indigenous and military communities.

“We've always been a place that welcomes folks from out of our state that have been turned away from their own homes to get this care,” she said. “We also need to prioritize our folks’ care here in our large, rural state.”

The University of New Mexico began looking into expanding its reproductive healthcare services to a new location around the same time Bold Futures and Strong Families were working to repeal the dormant abortion law.

Bold Futures Executive Director Charlene Bencomo said when she learned of the plan, she saw a vital piece missing.

“It was not what we at Bold Futures would consider community engagement,” she said. “So we said, ‘We want to be involved, ourselves and our partner organization Strong Families New Mexico. We’re gonna interject ourselves here and want to partner with you on this.’”

And that’s what they did. They brought in community members as well as providers to talk about what wasn’t working, which culminated in a report. The Reproductive Healthcare Success Guide lays out guidance for providers and funders on what underserved, existing communities in New Mexico say they want to see.

“What we didn't anticipate were these beautiful stories and this vision for how we could do better,” Bencomo said.

That included calls for providers who are better equipped to work with trans patients, are accessible to communities of color and people living low-income situations, and ready to accommodate more traditional practices. She said they also talked to providers who were on the same page about what changes needed to be made, but said they were limited by insurance and overbooked schedules.

“We don't want providers to come here that are coming here only because they've been displaced,” Bencomo said. “We do not want providers to come here who are looking to exploit the long-term work that has been done by and for women and people of color in this state to protect and expand abortion access because they don't have anywhere else to go.”

The center in Las Cruces is slated to receive $10 million in state funding, approved by the governor this year. That’s in addition to the $3 million already raised by the group that’s going towards planning expenses, such as advisory board meetings and an architect.

Barboa said the center will likely cost at least $16 million, and the group will start fundraising for the remainder of the money once they’ve scoped out exactly what they’ll need.

Melissa Marie Lopez, who’s the executive director of the New Mexico Doula Association and a member of the advisory board, said what will make for a good center is a strong sense of community.

“As birth workers, we’ve been providing this care,” she said. “As Indigenous people, we’ve been caring for one another as sisters, as aunties, as mothers, as grandmothers, and now we are so isolated, so part of this work is rebuilding that village.”

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Megan Myscofski is a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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