This story was originally published by Source New Mexico.
There’s no timeline for a $10 million reproductive health center of the future in Las Cruces, NM, but advocates head out to the capital to lay out a vision beyond abortion care.
About two dozen supporters of the health center — including advocacy nonprofits like Forward Together, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Bold Futures NM — met Friday in a room on the third floor of the roundhouse.
Adrian Barboa, Bernalillo County commissioner and policy director at Forward Together, said the center would not be limited to abortions, and could be expanded to include a birthing center.
“We deserve the full spectrum of reproductive health care, basic essential needs, abortion care, gender-affirming care — we want it all,” Barboa said.
New Mexico’s border areas — Hidalgo, Luna and Dona Ana counties — have higher infant mortality rates, higher rates of teen pregnancy and higher rates of HIV than other places in the state, a 2019 health equity report found.
The area is close to Texas, which has an almost complete ban on abortion. A state law went into effect in August to criminalize abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except in the case of a life-threatening medical emergency. Doctors or other providers found guilty of violating the law can be sentenced to up to life in prison.
Some abortion clinics in southern New Mexico offer medical abortion, which is limited to the early stages of pregnancy. The owner of the last abortion clinic operating in Mississippi moved to Las Cruces in June. The clinic, called “Pink House West,” would be the only facility outside Albuquerque to offer surgical abortions.
Anti-abortion groups vowed to close Pink House West over the summer. The Southwest Coalition for Life has demonstrated against clinics in Las Cruces and El Paso since 2014, coordinating marches, gathering on the sidewalk in front of clinics to talk to patients, and buying offices next to clinics.
Teo Ortega is one of an 11-member advisory group that determines what services the center will include and develops the center’s construction.
Ortega, who grew up in New Mexico and now lives in Boston, said her options in southern New Mexico for trans-affirming health care were limited.
“Las Cruces is a desert in many ways, and it has a resource desert,” Ortega said.
While the advisory group met with an architect late Friday, Bold Futures spokeswoman Angelique Carnes said there is no timeline yet for when the clinic plans will be complete.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned for re-election on the promise of a $10 million facility, and on a promise to enact a law protecting abortion rights. She announced the center in August as New Mexico abortion clinics — already short of staff — hit capacity with a surge in out-of-state patients after a fall. Roe v. Wade,
Last week on the opening day of the session, she again brought 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 in southern New Mexico.”
And she urged legislators to codify abortion rights into New Mexico law in her State of the Union address. As things stand, abortion is legal in New Mexico, but there is no law on the books ensuring the right.
In a brief appearance before the group on Friday, Lujan Grisham said any bill protecting abortion needs to be “clear, concise, constructive.” He said the narrow language in the proposed law would prevent challenges from towns and counties banning abortion clinics. In November, Hobb’s city council passed an ordinance banning abortion clinics from opening within city limits.
Lujan Grisham said getting the $10 million upfront investment to build the clinic is easy, but staffing and running it will be a challenge.
“If we didn’t have reproductive health specialists and doctors … to build a team to provide care and medical support to women and their families, it would never exist in these communities,” Lujan Grisham said.
In 2021, lawmakers repealed a 1969 state law that criminalized abortion. Dr. Eve Aspe, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico Hospital, said that change removed the requirements for doctors to perform abortions.
Aspe said the allowance of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide abortion care would help address some of the doctor staffing shortages felt across the country.
“I think we’re going to have a really good pipeline of providers who are really committed to providing this care,” she said.
Espey said UNM will continue to train doctors, and said the clinic could be an important educational resource.
“We attract a very social justice and reproductive justice-oriented group of students and residents to the university,” she said. “I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to staff that clinic.”
Stephanie Murillo, 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 border areas.
“Having this birth center will not only change New Mexico, but the states around it,” she said. “And it will have a ripple effect across the country.”
Danielle Prokop is a freelance reporter based in the Borderlands. She covers climate change, local government and communities in southern New Mexico and far west Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]