— Organization is prioritizing abortion, while nearby clinics take on more wellness exams
Sophie Putka, Enterprise & Investigative Writer, MedPage Today
August 18, 2023
Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico are prioritizing abortion care amidst a continuing influx of patients from Texas — where abortion is largely banned — and continuing fallout from the COVID pandemic.
The overwhelming demand has prompted Planned Parenthood, which offers low to no-cost services, to refer patients out to surrounding clinics in New Mexico for family planning, wellness exams, and other reproductive health services, so as to keep wait times down for abortion care. Currently, the wait time is 14 days for an abortion appointment at one of their clinics.
Adrienne Mansanares, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told MedPage Today that for the last 6 to 8 weeks, some clinics have modified their services because of a staff shortage, with not enough advanced practice practitioners to meet the demand.
“We are one of just a few organizations that do provide abortion care,” Mansanares said. “So there just aren’t enough providers that can help jump in, whereas they can for things like sexually transmitted infections [STIs] or birth control.”
There are only a dozen advanced practice providers of family services available across the state, she added, though Planned Parenthood’s media representative would not confirm this.
Of the five New Mexico Planned Parenthood locations, three were scheduling in-person appointments for STI testing and wellness exams; two were scheduling for birth control and pregnancy tests; and one was scheduling for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) drugs for HIV as of press time, though Mansanares said that appointment availability varies day-to-day, and some services are available via telehealth. One clinic is not staffed at all, she noted.
One location in Albuquerque offers procedural (sometimes known as “surgical”) abortion care, and three locations (including the Albuquerque site) were taking in-person appointments for medication abortion at press time. Telehealth appointments for medication abortion are available, and appointments cannot be scheduled more than 4 weeks in advance.
Mansanares said that Colorado and Nevada, also part of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, are navigating similar challenges with out-of-state patient volume.
Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which effectively ended the right to abortion in more than 20 states, 56% of New Mexico’s Planned Parenthood abortion patients are from Texas, according to data from Planned Parenthood. Texas was one of 13 states with a “trigger” law that took effect almost immediately when the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned.
In the 10 months following the Supreme Court decision, New Mexico saw more abortion patients from Texas than all of the state’s abortion patients in the 10 months prior to the passage of Texas’s SB8, the 6-week ban that dealt the first blow to abortion care in Texas and became effective in September 2021.
Of Texas’s neighbors, New Mexico shares the largest border, and is the only bordering state that has not banned abortion post-Dobbs. New Mexico has long protected abortion and reproductive health care; during the pandemic, the state designated abortion as an essential service, while Texas did not. Following the Supreme Court decision, the state earmarked $10 million to open a new reproductive health center at the El Paso border.
“We have a long, long history and tradition of birth justice workers, of people fighting for reproductive health care, reproductive freedom, and doing it in a way that really articulates the importance of the whole family,” said Mansanares.
She noted that the timing of SB8, combined with the pandemic’s overwhelming effect on healthcare, have played an important role in Planned Parenthood’s recent staff shortages and triage of services.
“The impact of the pandemic is deep and goes wide,” she explained. “So we’re still making up for patients who maybe didn’t get in to get sexually transmitted infection testing or treatment because they weren’t getting wellness exams, they weren’t coming in every year.”
The University of New Mexico’s Center for Reproductive Health is one of the clinics that has shouldered some of the volume since SB8 and the Texas ban, said Lisa Hofler, MD, MPH, MBA, chief of the division of complex family planning at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
“Often the first reason why people encounter delays when they think, ‘I need an abortion,’ is not knowing where to go, or how to get one,” she told MedPage Today. “Just [that] knowledge of people sometimes creates delays … If you live in Dallas, would you think to call the University of New Mexico first?”
“All that said, though, I think things are probably plateauing, because of the delays having gone down,” she noted, adding that the Center for Reproductive Health has hired additional faculty and staff to accommodate all reproductive health services, and wait times at the clinic are short.
Another option is Whole Woman’s Health, which operated four clinics in Texas before moving to New Mexico. President Amy Hagstrom Miller told MedPage Today that wait times are short — less than 48 hours — at their Albuquerque location for both abortion care and ob/gyn services, which include family planning and wellness visits.
Hagstrom Miller echoed Hofler, saying that New Mexico’s independent reproductive health clinics are able to offer a full range of services at comparable costs, but may not be as visible to potential patients as Planned Parenthood.
“Most of the folks that I know have appointment availability within a week,” she said, referring to other independent clinics in the state. “I think Planned Parenthood has been backed up more locally, and nationally as well, because their brand name is so known.”
In any case, patients are forced to make the choice to drive further to access care, or live longer with discomfort or uncertainty regarding reproductive health concerns.
Meanwhile, a shift in the healthcare labor market, with veteran healthcare providers retiring and new graduates just barely beginning, “has exasperated the fatigue of providing services during the pandemic, and then you layer on top of that people traveling hundreds, sometimes over 1,000 miles for an abortion — and those folks are scared,” Mansanares said. “It’s got so much shame and stigma. You put all that on the back of a healthcare provider, and then we’re in a crisis, which is what we’re seeing now.”