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New Mexico and Arizona: Reproductive Care and Abortion in the American Southwest

Today, our discussion of abortion care, reproductive care, and reproductive rights across the United States takes to the southwestern region, specifically the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Abortion access and laws differ greatly across the US, especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision on the Dobbs versus Jackson Womens Health Organization abortion case this past June. Dealing with the state of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, which prohibits all abortions subsequent to 15 weeks gestation, with very few exceptions, the law was upheld by the SCOTUS 6-3. Of the six SCOTUS justices voting in favor of the Mississippi law, only one, Chief Justice Roberts, did not favor overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. The other five justices that voted in favor of Mississippi’s 15 week ban, voted to overturn the entire Roe framework. This it possible for individual states with anti-abortion legislatures and governors to pass full bans against abortion care, although state court systems are also coming into play.

Some of the states in our discussion, such as New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington are so supportive of abortion rights that they are becoming destinations for abortion seekers from other US states. Certain states, such as Alaska and Montana have been upholding the right to choose, despite having Republican, anti-choice legislatures and governors, because their court systems have been ruling generally in favor reproductive rights, although upcoming elections could change this. There is also the example of Kansas, an extremely Republican state, full of politicians who want to end abortion, yet its people voted overwhelmingly to maintain protection of abortion rights in the state’s constitution. So let’s turn not to the southwest.

New Mexico is called “The Land of Enchantment”, and you really should be enchanted, because it’s also a state that is protected the right to choose in the post-Dobbs world. The New Mexico legislature has a strong majority of Democrats, a situation that tends to make state legislatures pro-choice. The Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has implemented various protections for abortion seekers, not New Mexicans, but also those traveling to New Mexico seeking abortion care. The governor is up for reelection this November and her opponent is not a friend of abortion rights. He favors prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks gestation. He says that he is alright with abortion up to 15 weeks, but on occasions he has spoken about a need to avoid an “abortion industry”. Given New Mexico’s geographic location, notably that it shares a border with Texas, a state that is particularly hostile to abortion, New Mexico is a shining light for its region.

The same cannot be said for New Mexico’s western neighbor, the Grand Canyon State, the Copper State, Arizona, where the legal situation of abortion has been extremely messy and uncertain. Until roughly the third week of September, you could receive abortion care in Arizona, but the state courts were deciding whether a very old law prohibiting abortion should be allowed to go into effect. This law was passed in the year 1901, before Arizona had even become a state and the origins of the bill that became that law can be traced all the way back to 1864. After the SCOTUS Roe v Wade decision in 1973, a court injunction immediately prevented this 1901 law from being enforced. During the decades following Roe, in the context of the Casey versus Planned Parenthood SCOTUS decision of 1992, Arizona settled on an idea of using fetal viability. This meant that, up to the Dobbs decision of this past June, women had full rights to decide whether to terminate pregnancy up to about 23 weeks gestation. When Arizona abortion providers cut back substantially on providing care just after the Dobbs decision, the care has mostly resumed. Due to the court decision in late September, however, that old law is now in effect again, making Arizona a no-abortion state.

Prior to this court decision, staffing issues were already plaguing abortion clinics in Arizona, which made it difficult to obtain a procedure abortion, meaning an abortion requiring instruments, although it was still fairly easy to obtain a medication abortion. Meanwhile, earlier this year, in April, thus prior to the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe, Arizona passed a different law. This newer law would have prohibited abortion after 15 weeks gestation, but it is now superseded by the 1901 law that the Arizona court system upheld.

The two big political races in the Grand Canyon state are for US Senate and for Governor. US Senator, Democrat, Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, who is very popular and supports the right to choose is running against a Republican challenger Blake Masters, who is trying to attract anti-abortion voters, while also trying to sound moderate, but he’s not succeeded at sounding moderate. There is also an issue of Arizona’s Attorney General, Republican Mark Brnovich who was saying that he wanted to enforce the 1901 full abortion ban, so will can assume that he now will for as long as he is in office. As for the gubernatorial race, the Democratic candidate, Katie Hobbs, supports the right to choose, while her opponent, Kari Lake, is anti-abortion, but has been making confusing statements. In August, for instance, Lake said that she would “uphold the laws that are on the books,” but she did not specify whether she meant the 1901 law prohibiting all abortion or the 2022 law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks. Moreover, her followup to the question was, “If people don’t like the laws on the books, then they need to elect representatives who will change the laws. I’m running for governor, not for God. So I don’t get to write the laws.” So it seems very clear that if you live in Arizona, it’s very important to go vote in November for people whose position on reproductive rights and choice is very clear. It’s also clear that if you desire an abortion in Arizona, your best option is to travel to your neighboring state, New Mexico.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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