The sanctuary in Grace Covenant Reformed Church was packed.
People stood shoulder to shoulder wherever they could — near the stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, behind the neatly lined rows of chairs that serve as pews, against a wall covered in crosses made from painted wood, wire, glass and ceramic red chiles.
Bibles and hymnals rested under every seat, but they weren’t used that Monday night last September. There was no sermon, because this wasn’t a church service.
Residents of Clovis, a town of some 40,000 people a mere 20-minute drive to the Texas state line, crammed into this little brick building that night to discuss a plan of action to ban abortion.
Just three months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that had legalized abortion in the U.S. for almost 50 years.
As trigger laws banning the procedure began going into effect across the nation — in places including neighboring Texas — abortion providers took up residence in New Mexico, which has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the U.S.
“As the laws in this country change before our very eyes,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on the day Roe was reversed, “I will continue to fight for the right to a safe, legal abortion in New Mexico and stand as a brick wall against those who seek to punish women and their doctors just because they seek the care they need and deserve.”
In the year since Dobbs, New Mexico has been a brick wall and a safe haven — for those who provide abortions and those who desire or need them.
But it’s also become something else: a new battleground in the fight over access to abortion in this country, with smaller towns and bigger cities — and American versus American — warring against one another.
“We gained a lot of ground with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but now it’s at the state level,” said Logan Brown, a science teacher from Portales, New Mexico, who helped organize the September church gathering. He’s a self-proclaimed abortion abolitionist, intent on outlawing abortion at all stages, for any reason.
“Now,” Brown said, “instead of one battlefield, it’s 50 battlefields.”
Post-Roe, 57% of Planned Parenthood patients in New Mexico are from Texas, according to the agency, with others coming from Oklahoma, Arizona and elsewhere.
“This was not by accident,” Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said in an emailed statement. “Home-grown reproductive justice groups have been organizing on the ground for decades to ensure New Mexico maintains the right to self-determination.”
Despite those efforts, the sudden and massive increase in abortion-seekers was not something New Mexico was necessarily prepared for, said Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the OB-GYN department at the University of New Mexico.
When the need for abortion care first began increasing, clinics adjusted scheduling and staffing, expanded telehealth capabilities, and extended hours, Espey said. This was helpful in accommodating not only clinical care but mental health concerns and logistical issues like helping patients with transportation, child care and funding.
“I think we can handle the numbers that are coming in, but we know that we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Espey said. “We know that we’re only seeing the patients who have the means or who have the health literacy, who have connections, internet skills and all of the things that are required to come sometimes 14 hours.”
New Mexico is typically described as a blue state and, at all levels of government right now, it is. Since 2019, Democrats have held the governor’s office and led the state House and Senate. The state attorney general and secretary of state are Democrats, too.
The population centers of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces are dominated by Democratic voters. But head east, to towns like Clovis, Hobbs, Roswell and others, and the ideological balance shifts.
“It’s much more Republican,” said Timothy Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor. “You’ve got cattle ranchers, you’ve got farming, you’ve got oil and gas, and then you’ve got proximity to Texas, which I think influences things.”
See here, here, and here for some general background. The story, which has a dateline of Clovis, NM, also focuses on the efforts of Texas-based fanatic Mark Lee Dickson to get smaller towns in New Mexico to declare themselves “abortion sanctuary cities” – see here and here for more on that foolishness. I drafted this before the story about trying to make it illegal to drive to places like New Mexico for the purposes of getting an abortion, but there was a lot of news and you know how these things go.
It’s important to remember that while New Mexico is a neighbor of ours, our population centers and theirs are still a long way away. We just drove back from a couple of days in Santa Fe, and it was 14 hours on the road, over two days, with the shortest stops for gas, food, and the bathroom that we could manage. You can cross the state line into Louisiana and pull right into a casino parking lot, but it’s different with New Mexico. Albuquerque is 289 miles west of Amarillo and 322 miles northwest of Lubbock, per Google Maps. Anyone going to New Mexico for abortion care is not making a day trip out of it.
Also, too, the roads to New Mexico pass through a bunch of red rural towns, where the same fanatics at work in New Mexico are trying to criminalize driving through their towns for the purpose of getting an abortion. (I’ll talk about that in a separate post.) This is of course completely unconstitutional, in the same way that criminalizing driving through one’s town to gamble at a Louisiana casino would be, but go tell that to SCOTUS.
Finally, as a reminder, while NM is pleasingly blue now, things can and do change. Their previous Governor was a Republican. George W. Bush carried the state in 2000. Nothing is guaranteed. The goals remain getting a national abortion access law on the books and turning Texas blue. Anything less leaves us where we are, with even that much in the balance. Now go read the rest of the story.