AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some abortion providers are planning to move to Texas’ western neighbor now that the Supreme Court struck down protections enshrined in the landmark Roe v. Wade case. The Texas trigger law that will soon go into effect bans most abortions in the state, and violations of the law will become a first-degree felony “if an unborn child dies as a result.”
Whole Woman’s Health is currently raising money through an online fundraiser to help the organization open a new clinic in New Mexico and relocate staff members there. So far donors contributed more than $250,000 to that effort. The goal is to collect $750,000.
The leaders at Whole Woman’s Health said this proposed clinic in New Mexico would take the place of its four Texas clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, McAllen and McKinney. It said it is no longer accepting patients at those locations, adding that it has “no other option” but to close them.
“Abortion is no longer being provided by anybody in the state of Texas because the criminal abortion ban that dates back to the 1930s is now the law of the land in the state,” CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said in an interview Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we are unable to provide the services that our staff are trained to provide and of course have been dedicated to providing for Texans, so we’re really left with no other option but to look to move the clinics to a place where abortion is recognized as essential medical care and is protected. The closest state is New Mexico.”
Criticism surfaced among social media users when Whole Woman’s Health announced the closure of its four Texas clinics, with some wondering why it wouldn’t stay and provide other services. Hagstrom Miller addressed those questions by stating simply that her organization specializes in abortion care services.
“It would be sort of like asking a heart surgeon to stop providing heart surgery and try to just only do blood pressure,” she said.
“We did provide ultrasounds and pregnancy tests and contraception,” she added. “In many communities, those services are also being provided by other providers and so we want to be able to do the work that we are called to do and the work that is needed. Right now it is abortion services that are tremendously underserved in the Southwest. We know that people are being displaced from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona as well, so we’re hoping to be able to care for those people with a specialty that we are trained to provide.”
Additionally, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the Mississippi clinic at the center of the Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe — already moved furniture and equipment to a new abortion clinic that the owner said she will open soon in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That’s about 50 minutes northwest of El Paso.
Policy experts point to recent abortion protections enacted by New Mexico leaders as reasons for why these clinics are seeking to relocate there. Elizabeth Nash works as the principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, where she tracks state policies related to reproductive health and rights.
“What we’ve seen in New Mexico is that they haven’t adopted the same level of restrictions on abortion,” Nash said. “In fact, they repealed their pre-Roe abortion law just last year, so they really have been moving towards protecting abortion rights and access. It’s a political climate and a legal climate that is much more supportive for abortion clinics and abortion patients.”
New Mexico policies
In 2021 Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed into law a bill that repealed a dormant ban on most abortion procedures in New Mexico. The Democratic-controlled legislature there approved the repeal of a 1969 statute that went unenforced since the Supreme Court upheld the right to an abortion in 1973. State leaders pushed this effort to preemptively head off the high court overturning the Roe ruling, which happened this year.
Once the court struck down the Roe ruling in June, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order with several directives, which included prohibiting cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access. Several other Democratic governors across the nation took similar actions.
“Today we have once again declared that we will take every available action to protect the rights and access to health care of anyone in New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement on June 27. “As long as I am governor, abortion will continue to be legal, safe, and accessible in New Mexico.”
KXAN contacted the governor’s office for further comment, but has yet to receive any responses.
Texas patients already traveling
According to data reported by the Guttmacher Institute, people obtained 5,880 abortions in New Mexico in 2020. Meanwhile, 58,030 abortions were obtained that same year in Texas.
Policy experts, like Nash, are anticipating states like New Mexico will experience an influx of patients from places that enact restrictions on the procedure.
“There is a huge capacity issue because, as states are banning abortion, the number of clinics is decreasing,” Nash said. “That means more people have to travel, so the distances are increasing while the number of clinics is shrinking. That means that patients are facing delays in accessing care — and not by just a few days. We’re talking that some patients are delayed weeks, maybe a month or so.”
Hagstrom Miller said 30-40% of the patients seen at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Minnesota are now coming from Texas, which she said explains why the organization is hoping to set up a space in New Mexico as quickly as possible.
“Just because you ban abortion doesn’t change the fact that people still need access to safe abortion, and so people are being forced to travel,” she said. “Oftentimes, their procedure is delayed because they have to travel, get time off work and childcare and so we’re just trying to do whatever we can to mitigate that harm and try to make our care available to people in this new landscape.”
Pushback in New Mexico
While top elected leaders in New Mexico call for further protections for abortion rights, some are opposing more clinics moving to the state.
The Southwest Culture of Life, which described itself as an organization focusing on “uniting the pro-life community of El Paso and Southern New Mexico,” held a protest Tuesday evening close to the site where Jackson Women’s Health plans to open its new clinic in Las Cruces.
In a news release announcing the demonstration, Mark Cavaliere, the group’s CEO, said, “After 50 years of medical advancements in women’s healthcare, we know that destroying any part of a woman’s body is not healthcare nor is it an advancement of women’s rights.”
Some Republican lawmakers in Texas are also expressing their intent to pursue additional abortion restrictions when the legislature reconvenes next year. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, one of the leaders behind Texas anti-abortion legislation in the last session, said lawmakers could expand the state law that lets private citizens to sue abortion providers or people who help women get an abortion.