Restricting Abortion In Albuquerque Will Hurt Women Far Beyond The City Limits

CREDIT: AP Photo/Juan Antonio Labreche

On Tuesday, a 20-week abortion is up for a vote in Albuquerque. If it passes, New Mexico’s most populous city could become the first municipality in the United States to impose its own local ban on the procedure. That obviously has big implications for Albuquerque — but women’s health advocates warn that the proposed 20-week ban would actually have a much wider impact than that.

“This is something that’s going to impact the whole country,” Julianna Koob, the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, told ThinkProgress.

That’s because Albuquerque is home to the Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic, one of just three facilities left in the entire United States that offers abortion services up to 28 weeks. In the aftermath of the murder of Dr. George Tiller — who provided late-term abortions in Kansas until he was gunned down by an anti-choice activist in 2009 — hardly any doctors are willing to risk their lives to openly provide these services. In fact, there are just four doctors who publicize their work in this area. Two of them, Stacey Sella and Susan Robinson, are employed by the clinic in Albuquerque.

Aside from Southwestern Women’s Options, the other two late-term abortion clinics in the country are located in Colorado and Maryland. If Albuquerque voters approve the 20-week ban, those two facilities will be the only places where women can safely end a later pregnancy. And many women may not be able to afford the trek.

“The word for this new tactic is expensive,” Koob noted. “The country really needs to understand that this is just another tactic that proponents are using to restrict access to what is one of the safest medical procedures in the country.”

Driving up the cost of abortion is a popular anti-choice strategy, one that manifests itself in several ways. For instance, abortion opponents have long fought to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortion care, something that prevents low-income women from being able to use their public insurance to cover the procedure. More recently, anti-abortion lawmakers have started pushing for more restrictions on the abortion pill, which requires women to make multiple trips to a clinic. Taking that additional time off work, arranging for that extra transportation, and paying for abortion out-of-pocket is more than many economically disadvantaged women can afford.

One of the most rapidly advancing tactics in this area is the one that’s unfolding in Albuquerque — forcing abortion clinics to shut down, shrinking the dwindling pool of providers available, and ultimately making it necessary to cross state lines in order to get this type of health care.

The situation is particularly dire now that Texas has enacted a 20-week ban of its own. That new law was part of the package of abortion restrictions that GOP lawmakers pushed through over the summer, and it officially took effect at the beginning of this month.

Southwestern Women’s Options has a sister clinic in Texas that used to perform abortions up to 22 weeks. But now that the women who live in the Lone Star State can’t access later abortion services there, Albuquerque is their closest option.

“If this ban is passed in Albuquerque, it will also effectively shut off the only option all people in the Southwest have for abortion after 20 weeks since the ban was passed in Texas,” Lindsay Rodriguez, the president of the Lilith Fund — a nonprofit organization that provides direct financial assistance to Texas women seeking abortions — told ThinkProgress. Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana have already enacted their own 20-week bans, so the available services in the region are narrowing.

Rodriguez noted that the types of individuals who will be denied these health care options are often in the most desperate of circumstances. “They are people who have found out about difficulties in their pregnancy, or they’re people who have faced a host of barriers to earlier abortion access like lack of money, time off from work, transportation, childcare or healthcare access,” she pointed out. “People who need abortions after 20 weeks should get compassion, not shame.”

29-year-old Lauren, a New Mexico resident who’s choosing to withhold her last name, was one of those people. Writing in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Lauren explains she made the difficult choice to have a later abortion after she discovered her unborn son had serious brain damage that would prevent him from being able to breathe on his own. Doctors told her and her husband that in the unlikely event that he survived to full term, “all he would know before his death was suffering.”

“After much anguish, my husband and I made the painful decision to end the pregnancy. It was the right decision for our family, given the only agonizing options we had,” Lauren writes. “We said goodbye to David on October 19 — exactly one month to the date from when voters in Albuquerque will decide whether another New Mexico woman faced with a heartbreaking circumstance similar to mine can make the right decision for her — in consultation with her doctors, her values and her own family.”

It’s true that voters in Albuquerque are the ones deciding this issue, but New Mexico women aren’t the only ones at risk.

“It’s really important for the country to sit up and take notice,” Koob told ThinkProgress. “These tactics are not welcome and they’re not wanted in any community in our country.”