In light of the recent abortion ban in Texas, abortion providers in New Mexico have seen an influx of patients as many individuals travel across state lines to receive safe healthcare.
The ban in Texas prohibits all abortions six weeks after the individual’s last menstrual cycle, which is before many people even know they are pregnant. The law also allows anyone in the state to enforce it; individuals can sue anyone aiding in the abortion process for up to $10,000.
Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynocolgy at the University of New Mexico, spoke to the Daily Lobo about what the neighboring state’s ban means for abortion providers in New Mexico.
“We have always seen a number of patients from Texas, but — in the brief period of time since the ban was passed — we have seen an increase and we anticipate to continue to see an increase as long as this ban is in effect,” Espey said.
Espey said the department is taking several steps to ensure they are prepared to handle anyone who comes in seeking care, including working on staffing plans and shifting some routine appointments to make sure there is availability for abortion services.
The people who the ban affects the most include those from low-income and rural areas and people of color, according to Espey. For many of these individuals, finding the resources to travel into the state is the first economic barrier they face. Devki Joshi, a third-year resident in the obstetrics and gynecology clinic at UNM Hospital, said the financial obstacles to getting care don’t end there.
“Patients who are from Texas, they do not have health insurance coverage in New Mexico … So, there are some financial burdens people are navigating through,” Joshi said. “And we offer all the options to every patient, regardless of their payer status.”
Espy said the ban has increased the fear of sharing personal information with providers among some out-of-state patients.
“There's tremendous fear on the part of patients. It's hard to know what patients don't reveal,” Espy said. “But the atmosphere of confusion and chaos in patients’ minds about what they can and cannot do and what they can and cannot say, I think, is only increasing.”
There are several advocacy groups in the state dedicated to helping individuals seeking an abortion, including Indigenous Women Rising, Mariposa Fund and New Mexico Religious Collation for Reproductive Choice. These groups help provide lodging, transportation and aid to different people who might need it while seeking an abortion. Espey said the clinic retains a positive relationship with these organizations.
“We have a community that's been ongoing for some time,” Espy said. “That helps ensure access and mutual support for reproductive health access.”
This is not the first time New Mexico has seen a major influx of patients from Texas. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an executive order in Texas that shut down nearly all access to abortion services in the state, and this previous experience has been a guiding resource with the current ban.
“That was a time when we saw about a doubling of patients from Texas … We've done some of the modelings about what we could expect to see (based off of that) in the setting of this law,” Espy said.
For many physicians themselves, this has been an incredibly emotional experience. Joshi said the ban itself feels “disrespectful” to the work she strives to do as an OB-GYN in providing safe and important care to her patients. She is, however, very grateful to be able to provide for the patients who have faced numerous challenges to see her.
“It's an absolute honor to care for patients, especially in these times where they're incredibly vulnerable, and to meet them in that moment is such a privilege,” Joshi said.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite