News Abortion

Following Albuquerque Defeat, Anti-Choice Activists Propose New Abortion Restrictions Across New Mexico

Teddy Wilson

The proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks' gestation in Albuquerque may have been soundly defeated at the ballot box, but the reverberations from that vote are being felt across the state.

The proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation in Albuquerque may have been soundly defeated at the ballot box, but the reverberations from that vote are being felt across the state. From proposed reforms to the petition initiative process in Albuquerque, to another potential 20-week ban in neighboring Valencia County, to a possible fight over abortion restrictions in the state legislature, the battle over reproductive rights in the Land of Enchantment is just beginning.

In Valencia County—a neighboring county of Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is situated—a ban on abortion after 20 weeks modeled after the Albuquerque ordinance is currently under consideration by county commissioners. The ban would apply only to the unincorporated areas of the county, and would not affect the City of Belen, villages of Bosque Farms or Los Lunas, or the towns of Peralta and Rio Communities.

Anti-choice activists are claiming that the ordinance is a preventative measure. There is not a single facility that provides abortion services in the county. It was originally introduced before the Albuquerque vote, and supporters thought if the ban had passed providers might try to move into the neighboring county. The ordinance is being sponsored by Commissioner Lawrence Romero. There is a public hearing scheduled for December 20, with a vote on final passage set for January 8.

Jackie Farnsworth of the Valencia County chapter of New Mexico Right to Life was lobbying for the ordinance before the vote in Albuquerque failed. She told the Albuquerque Journal that the ordinance was meant to prepare for a possible relocation of clinics that could have occurred if the Albuquerque ordinance had passed; Valencia County is the next closest county to the Albuquerque airport. “What we were concerned about is there is a huge business in Albuquerque that people fly in, get on a shuttle to the clinic, for these procedures,” Farnsworth told the Journal.

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The proposed ordinance claims that “anatomical studies” document that a fetus is able to feel pain “by 20 weeks gestation.” Another claim is that “ample medical research” shows fetuses at 20 weeks’ gestation “actually feel pain more intensely than adults.” These claims have been repeatedly disproven. The ordinance does make an exception for a “medical emergency,” but only to preserve the life of the woman. It does not include exceptions for “psychological or emotional conditions.” The ordinance makes no exception for cases of rape or incest or viability of the fetus.

Unlike in Albuquerque, there will be no vote by the citizens of Valencia County on the ban. In Valencia County, ordinances must be introduced by a county commissioner. Romero introduced the ordinance after Farnsworth presented the board with a petition in favor of it that she claimed was signed by 1,000 residents.

The proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation was just one of three issues that Albuquerque voters went to the polls on this year. In addition to the regular election of city council members, voters also participated in special elections, including a runoff election for city council. Petition ballot initiatives also included a proposed change to the city’s minimum wage.

Petition-initiated elections require that supporters collect 20 percent of the average turnout in the last four municipal elections, which makes the current required number of signatures about 12,000. The signatures must be collected within a 60-day period to qualify for the ballot. If petitioners are successful, the city is required to hold an election within 90 days. According to the Journal, the three special elections that resulted from petitions this year have cost the city $1.2 million.

The frequency of petition-initiated elections in Albuquerque have led city leaders to consider reforms to the process. Some of these reforms include holding petition-initiated elections during the next regular election, boosting the signature requirement, and creating a legal review committee that would examine the proposed initiatives and make recommendations about whether or not they should be allowed to move forward.

During the validation process for the proposed 20-week ban, the city council questioned City Attorney David Tourek about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance; state Attorney General Gary King called it “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Meanwhile, Councilmember Trudy Jones attempted to introduce a resolution before the special election that would have required the city to pursue legal action to determine the ordinance’s constitutionality. That measure was blocked from consideration because of parliamentary procedures. 

After the electoral loss in Albuquerque, anti-choice activists may be setting their sights on the state capitol. The New Mexico legislature is controlled by Democrats, but they do not have a supermajorities in the state house or senate. Typically, abortion restrictions have died in committee before reaching the house or senate floor.

Still, during the last legislative session, a handful of bills restricting abortion rights were introduced. These included bils relating to informed consent, parental notification, and making the termination of a pregnancy that resulted from rape legally the same as tampering with evidence from a crime. The New Mexico legislature will be called into session on January 21, and anti-choice Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will determine which topics will be on the legislative agenda. Martinez has not said publicly whether any of the items on the agenda will deal with reproductive rights.

However, the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico told the Journal that Martinez had promised the organization she would put on the agenda changes to parental notification rules for minors seeking an abortion. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) suggested that if parental notification laws were placed on the agenda that could open the door for more legislation dealing with abortion rights. 

Julianna Koob, legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, told Rewire that it is clear the anti-choice activists behind the 20-week ban in Albuquerque seek not only to ban abortion later in pregnancy but to ban abortion altogether. “They have tried to change the law in the legislature for the past three or four years,” said Koob. “We have been really pleased that legislators have known that their place is not to inject themselves into those decisions.”

Koob noted that Planned Parenthood is expecting the parental notification law to be placed on the governor’s legislative agenda, and that it is a bill that has been defeated year after year. “It is a policy that is not needed, and a place where politicians have no business,” said Koob. “Most young people already let parents know before they seek an abortion, and the ones that don’t often have good reason. This includes safety concerns when domestic abuse and violence are involved.”

“The general public does not think that this is the legislators’ business,” said Koob, referencing the recent outcome in Albuquerque.

Monday is the first day during which state legislators are permitted to pre-file legislation; lawmakers can continue to do so until January 17.

News Abortion

Nurses Can’t Administer Abortion Drug, Anti-Choice Group Charges

Nicole Knight Shine

Planned Parenthood officials said Tuesday they have done nothing illegal or improper, and expect the complaint to be dismissed.

The medication abortion drug mifepristone is at the center of a formal complaint over whether a New Mexico Planned Parenthood employee is unlawfully administering the legal medication.

At issue is whether nurse practitioners may prescribe the medication, which is part of a two-pill regimen commonly taken to end first-trimester pregnancies, and one that is lawfully available in New Mexico.

In a recent complaint filed with the New Mexico Board of Nursing, the anti-choice group Protest ABQ claims a Planned Parenthood nurse practitioner is illegally prescribing mifepristone. Protest ABQ, which has long targeted Planned Parenthood and other abortion care providers, contends that only licensed physicians may perform abortions under state law.

Planned Parenthood officials, however, say that nurse practitioners may prescribe the pill under a series of decisions. They point to a 2005 opinion from the State Board of Nursing, which held that the New Mexico Nurse Practice Act does not prohibit a properly trained and certified nurse practitioner from prescribing mifepristone.

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Following a 2007 lawsuit by Planned Parenthood, a New Mexico state court found that state law does not prohibit a properly trained and certified nurse practitioner from prescribing the drug.

Representatives from the New Mexico Board of Nursing told the Albuquerque Journal that they received the complaint and have referred it to the board’s investigators.

Tara Shaver, co-founder of Protest ABQ, filed the complaint based on state Medicaid billing records obtained from New Mexico’s Human Services Department. The records showed that a certified nurse practitioner employed by Planned Parenthood was reimbursed about $42,000 from 2013 to 2015, primarily for medication-abortion drugs, according to reports in the Albuquerque Journal.

Angelo Artuso, the attorney for Protest ABQ, told the Albuquerque Journal that the 2007 court ruling sets no precedent for nurse practitioners to prescribe the medication.

Planned Parenthood officials said Tuesday they have done nothing illegal or improper, and expect the complaint to be dismissed.

“The current complaint before the State Board of Nursing is yet another baseless attack by a group dedicated to outlawing safe and legal abortion, and is intended to intimidate and harass providers,” Carmen Feldman, general counsel of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, said in an emailed statement. “This very same group sent graphic and violent images to the homes of families in a City Council race last fall, and equated abortion to the Holocaust when trying to pass an extreme abortion ban in Albuquerque in 2013.”

News Abortion

New Mexico Abortion Providers See Spike in Texas Patients

Nicole Knight Shine

Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico have successfully beaten back anti-choice measures. But across its eastern border is a state with some of the nation's most onerous abortion access laws: Texas.

In a busy week, Brittany Defeo fields as many as a dozen calls from people traveling to New Mexico seeking abortion care.

Defeo, a program manager with the aid group New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said in an interview with Rewire that the callers ask for many types of assistance during their brief stays in the state. Sometimes it’s a ride from the bus stop, or a lift from the airport, or a place to stay the night.

The number of patients from other states seeking abortion care in New Mexico has doubled in recent years. About 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed there in 2014 involved out-of-state patients, according to state health department data reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico have successfully beaten back anti-choice measures. But across its eastern border is a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion access laws: Texas.

When Defeo picks up the phone, there’s a good chance that the pregnant person on the other end is a Texan.

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“So far this year, one-third are from Texas,” Defeo said of the callers who ask for the coalition’s assistance.

Defeo said the out-of-state patients arrive after flying, boarding a Greyhound bus, or driving solo. They travel hundreds—or thousands—of miles, coming from as far away as Maine and Oregon.

“They’re ages 18 to 40. It’s all walks of life,” Defeo told Rewire.

The coalition has a couple dozen volunteers who ferry the patients to appointments. Some volunteers offer up the hospitality of their own homes, and hotel discounts are available. Patients are greeted with unconditional support, said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, the coalition’s executive director.

New Mexico has four abortion clinics. Three are in Albuquerque, which is where most of the coalition’s volunteers are located. One is in Las Cruces, about a 45-minute drive from El Paso.

Abortion services are available in New Mexico in all trimesters of pregnancy. Republican legislators in Texas, on the other hand, have outlawed abortion care beyond 20 weeks.

The unconstitutional 20-week ban is one of many policies that have kneecapped abortion access throughout Texas. The state’s onerous clinic shutdown law, HB 2, requires Texas doctors who perform abortions to maintain admitting privileges at a nearby hospitals, and mandates that abortion facilities must be outfitted like mini-hospitals. In 2014, the first full year after HB 2 was enacted, the state’s rate of legal abortions fell 14 percent, as the Dallas Morning News recently reported.

Since July 2013, when then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law, 22 of the state’s 41 abortion clinics have stopped offering the procedure, according to Reuters.

Texas women now must drive four times farther for abortion services and often wait three times longer for appointments, researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found in a series of recent studies. Abortion care in the sprawling state is now concentrated in cities, with the Houston-Beaumont area accounting for more than one-third of abortions performed between November 2013 and April 2014.

The number of Texas patients seeking abortion services in New Mexico has skyrocketed. In the first 11 months of 2015, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) hotline referred 209 Texas patients to New Mexico, up from a mere 21 in all of 2013, said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of NAF.

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide in the coming months whether HB 2 imposes an undue burden on the state’s pregnant people. During oral arguments this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that Texas, which has argued that its harsh restrictions safeguard pregnant people’s health, seemed to have no problem with pregnant people seeking the procedure in New Mexico, where abortion care is easier to come by.

“It’s not just Texas and New Mexico where women travel out of state,” Saporta told Rewire.

In fact, Kansas is the leader nationwide in out-of-state abortions among those states from which the Kaiser Family Foundation could procure data. Fifty-one percent of abortions in Kansas were obtained by patients coming from other states in 2012. The data, however, predates a flood of Republican-led state-level restrictions enacted in recent years.

As the number of state-level restrictions grows,  Saporta said, “it may be easier and quicker for [pregnant people] to go out of state.”

Saporta offered the example of a Missouri patient who lives far from the St. Louis area, where abortion services are available. That individual, she said, may find it easier to cross into neighboring Iowa or Kansas.

But geography isn’t always the reason. Saporta said that barriers to care play a growing role for pregnant people.

“Maybe they want to have a medication abortion and the state they’re in requires multiple visits,” Saporta said. “Where is it most feasible to obtain care? It’s not always the state they live in due to onerous restrictions that have nothing to do with safety.”

Restrictions force patients to wait longer, travel farther, spend more, or resort to at-home attempts to end pregnancy. Facilities also must cope.

Saporta said one Albuquerque provider has seen its number of Texas patients more than triple, going from 19 Texas patients in the first quarter of 2012 to 67 patients in the first quarter of 2015.

Defeo recalled a Texas woman who called the aid group asking for help. Already a mother of two, the woman was carrying a fetus that had been diagnosed with anomalies. She was just days past the 20-week mark, meaning the procedure was illegal in Texas.

Defeo said the woman first made the more than 1,000-mile drive to a Georgia facility, discovering upon arrival that a new abortion restriction had gone into effect the day of her appointment.

“The day she got there, the new law went in place and they had to turn her away,” Defeo said.

The woman was finally able to receive abortion care in New Mexico.

That might not always be the case, advocates said. An offshoot of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue is targeting New Mexico providers. The anti-choice organization Americans United For Life rated the state the tenth-worst on its 2015 “Life List.” And state Democrats managed to narrowly defeat a series of abortion restrictions this legislative session, but more are likely to come.

Saporta said Texas is shifting its constitutional responsibilities to other states, while ignoring the damaging effects on those who are most vulnerable.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether this restrictive landscape is an enduring reality.

“The consequences for women are huge,” Saporta said.