Planners for southern N.M. reproductive health clinic gather in the capital to talk next steps
There’s no timeline for the future $10 million reproductive health center in Las Cruces, N.M., but advocates turned out at the capital, touting a vision beyond abortion care.
About two dozen supporters of the health center — including advocacy nonprofits such as Forward Together, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Bold Futures NM — met in a room on the third floor of the Roundhouse Friday.
Adriann Barboa, a Bernalillo County Commissioner and policy director at Forward Together, said the center would not be limited to abortion, and could also be expanded to include a birthing center.
“We deserve the full spectrum of reproductive health care, the basic essential needs, abortion care, gender-affirming care — we want it all,” Barboa said.
New Mexico’s border region — Hidalgo, Luna and Doña Ana Counties — has higher infant mortality rates, higher rates of teen pregnancies, and higher rates of HIV than other places in the state, a 2019 health equity report found.
The region’s in close proximity to Texas, which has a near-total ban on abortion. A state law went into effect in August criminalizing abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except in the case of a life-threatening medical emergency. Doctors or other providers convicted of violating the law could face punishment of up to life in prison.
Few abortion clinics in Southern New Mexico offer medical abortion, which is limited to the early stages in the pregnancy. Owners of the last abortion clinic operating in Mississippi, moved to Las Cruces in June. The clinic, dubbed “Pink House West,” would be the only facility to offer surgical abortion outside of Albuquerque.
Anti-abortion groups vowed to shut down Pink House West in the summer. The Southwest Coalition for Life has demonstrated against clinics in Las Cruces and El Paso since 2014 by coordinating marches, congregating on the sidewalk in front of clinics to talk to patients and buying offices next door to clinics.
Teo Ortega is one of an 11-member advisory group determining what services the center will include and developing the center’s construction.
Ortega, who grew up in New Mexico and now lives in Boston, said their options were limited in Southern New Mexico for trans-affirming health care.
“Las Cruces is in many ways a desert, and in this, a resource desert,” Ortega said.
While the advisory group met with an architect late Friday, Angelique Karnes, a spokesperson for Bold Futures, said there is no timeline yet for when the clinic’s plan will be completed.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned for reelection on the promise of the $10 million facility, and enacting a law to protect abortion rights. She announced the center in August, as New Mexico abortion clinics — already short-staffed — hit capacity with a surge in out-of-state patients after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
On the session’s opening day last week, she again brought up the clinic.
“I’m going to ask you to make good on our commitment to invest $10 million in full-service, reproductive health care — a center right in southern New Mexico.”
And she urged legislators to codify abortion rights in New Mexico statute in her State of the State address. As things stand, abortion is legal in New Mexico, but there’s no law on the books ensuring the right.
In a short appearance before the group Friday, Lujan Grisham said any bill protecting abortion would need to be “clear, concise, constructive.” Narrow language in a proposed statute would prevent challenges from towns and counties to ban abortion clinics, she said. In November, Hobb’s City Council passed an ordinance banning abortion clinics from opening within the city limits.
Lujan Grisham said getting the one-time investment of $10 million to build the clinic is easy, but staffing and operating it will be the challenge.
“If we don’t have reproductive health specialists and doctors … to build a team to provide care and medical support for women and their families, it will never exist in these communities,” Lujan Grisham said.
In 2021, lawmakers repealed a 1969 state law that criminalized abortions. That change removed requirements for doctors to administer abortions, said Dr. Eve Espey, the chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at the University of New Mexico Hospital.
The allowance of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide abortion care will alleviate some of the doctor staffing shortages felt nationwide, Espey said.
“I think we’re going to have a really nice pipeline of providers who are really committed to providing this care,” she said.
Espey said UNM would continue training doctors, and said the clinic could be an important educational resource.
“We do attract a very social justice and reproductive justice-oriented group of students and residents at the university,” she said. “I am very confident that we’ll be able to staff that clinic.”
Stephanie Murrillo, a midwife from El Paso who attended the meeting, said the center is “out-of-the-box thinking” that will provide better care for more people in the borderlands.
“Having this birth center will change not only New Mexico, but the states around it,” she said. “And that will be a wave of impact across the whole country.”