Only 12 states in the nation rank above New Mexico for open access to abortion; the state is surrounded by more restrictive ones—including Texas, considered the most restrictive in the country—according to a 2011 analysis by anti-abortion advocacy group Americans United for Life.
Yet fewer counties in New Mexico have abortion providers than in the average US state, and as of Dec. 17, that number is shrinking further, from 9 percent to 6 percent. The only abortion provider in Santa Fe is retiring after 35 years, leaving only two counties statewide where the service is available. That doctor, Lucia Cies, is quietly ending her practice; she declined to speak to SFR for this story and is “not interested” in being written about, her office staff says.
Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, calls Cies a “very private person,” but Dr. Curtis Boyd of Albuquerque, one of two remaining abortion providers in the state, didn’t return calls for comment either.
One of the most important services that the Santa Fe chapter of the National Organization for Women provides to northern New Mexicans is support—not least of all, emotional support—for women who get abortions, Santa Fe NOW President Dana Middleton says. That’s because so many of them keep their decision secret from family and friends. Thirty-eight years after the Roe v Wade US Supreme Court case that guarantees a certain level of legal abortion access, in one of the country’s most progressive states for reproductive rights, abortion is nevertheless shrouded in secrecy and shame and, partly as a result, is still relatively inaccessible.
“We’re not quite sure why it’s come to this,” Middleton says. “We know that providers all over the country have diminished, and I think frankly it’s from the threats from the extreme right that infringe on women’s rights.”
Perhaps the most prominent recent example of that backlash nationwide was the 2009 murder of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. But closer to home, Boyd’s clinic was firebombed in 2007. Lamunyon Sanford and Middleton say they’re not aware of any violent incidents at Cies’ clinic. But in a more subtle form of pushback, so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” are proliferating in Santa Fe at the same time as its last abortion provider is disappearing. Santa Fe has at least three of the centers, which advertise free pregnancy tests and family-planning counseling to women, but are not medical clinics and serve primarily to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term.
“If she really has no plans for an abortion, then that’s great, and she’ll get help and they’ll give her baby clothes, or whatever they do, and that’s fine,” Middleton says. “But if somebody wants to have more choices, these places are not the place to go.”
Thirty-eight years after the Roe v Wade US Supreme Court case that guarantees a certain level of legal abortion access, in one of the country’s most progressive states for reproductive rights, abortion is nevertheless shrouded in secrecy and shame and, partly as a result, is still relatively inaccessible.
Two Santa Fe crisis pregnancy centers didn’t return calls for comment.
In keeping with the ultraconservative standpoint they represent, crisis pregnancy centers also don’t provide any information about or referrals for birth control of any kind. Santa Fe novelist and activist Kate Buckley, who counsels Santa Fe high schoolers and has worked with Santa Fe middle schoolers, says she was astonished at the level of ignorance among 13- and 14-year-olds about reproductive biology, even in a state where over half of all pregnancies are unintended. Buckley says kids parroted conservative talking points like “life begins at the moment of conception,” but didn’t know what “conception” meant.
And while Santa Fe NOW acknowledges the need for New Mexicans on both sides of the debate to find common ground in promotion of comprehensive sex education and use of birth control, at least one of the clinics NOW supports has policies that would alienate the most open-minded anti-abortionist. New Mexico is one of several states where the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act goes into effect only after the fetus achieves viability, or the ability to survive outside the womb without life support. Though Cies performs abortions only up until the 18th week of pregnancy, Boyd’s clinic, according to its website, does the procedure into the third trimester of pregnancy: up to and past 28 weeks. In third-trimester and late second-trimester abortions, the woman’s cervix must be artificiality dilated over a period of days to accommodate the large fetus; the fetal heartbeat is terminated at the beginning of the procedure, and the woman gives birth to a stillborn.
This polarized climate cultivates the silence and secrecy that causes women to be ignorant of their options and afraid to reach out. Buckley says her pro-abortion novel Choices attempts to parse through the complexities at the heart of the issue. It tells the story of a Denver teenager growing up in a Catholic, anti-abortion family who gets an abortion after being raped. Buckley got the idea when she read about an abortion provider who recognized the mother of one of his patients from a protest picket line that formed outside his clinic just a few weeks before. When the doctor asked the patient’s mom to explain the contradiction, she said simply, “This is different; this is my daughter.”