NM Planned Parenthood sees uptick in patients from out of state

Telehealth services keep wait times shorter for New Mexicans as out-of-state visitors must have in-person appointments

By: - December 3, 2021 5:00 am

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

The impact of restrictive abortion laws in other states is already showing up for reproductive health care providers in New Mexico who operate without those legal constraints.

Vicki Cowart can tell you the exact number of days since Texas passed a law banning all abortions after 6-weeks.

“It went into effect Sept. 1, and immediately, we saw an uptick in Texas patients driving into New Mexico seeking abortion care,” said Cowart, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

She said provider schedules for appointments typically filled up a week in advance, but now patient load is at least twice that and booked out two and three weeks.

“Abortion and all reproductive health care is a time-sensitive care. So we are working on that just as hard and fast as we can,” she said. “I want to remind people that abortion is legal and safe and available and accessible across New Mexico. We will continue to grow that capability while we’re in this terrible situation.”

Support that keeps the strain off providers is coming in the form of telehealth medicated abortion services.

Anyone in New Mexico can contact a service like Planned Parenthood and do a phone consult with a physician to see if they qualify for the medicated procedure. If they do, the person receives two pills in the mail quickly with instructions that allow them to do an abortion at home under the guidance of a doctor working remotely.

Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain has doctors licensed in Colorado and New Mexico, which means the telehealth service can be done between a doctor in Denver and a patient in rural New Mexico. All of this can happen without a person having to set foot in a clinic.

“If you think about the vast expanses of New Mexico, it is a big state. And you know what? You might have to drive over to mountain passes to get to a facility,” Cowart said. “If you don’t have to do that, that’s great. But if you’re in a city, and you just don’t have child care to get across town to see the doctor, you’re able to just get on the phone.”

The telehealth services are not only beneficial for alleviating long in-patient wait times for people coming from states where it is illegal for them to access the at-home option, it also supports the COVID-safe practices Planned Parenthood must follow.

And this is extended beyond abortion services, which is just one of the many reproductive care resources Planned Parenthood offers.

The organization recently launched an app that connects people to contraceptives and testing resources.

“Literally, it’s a text platform,” Cowart said. “So you just you just open up your phone, go to Planned Parenthood Direct and become a patient and get your testing and your prescriptions that way,” she said. “Urban people are really enjoying that as well, because they don’t have to take a bus or whatever.”

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains operates facilities in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Farmington in the state. It also oversees facilities in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming.

While Planned Parenthood is anxious about how the Supreme Court could clawback Roe v. Wade, allowing states to restrict abortion services, Cowart is confident in the environments where they operate to remain supportive of reproductive rights.

In New Mexico, she said, the organization has worked with a coalition to talk to people all across the state to understand their values. That’s been reflected in elections and in the Legislature, she added.

“New Mexico is well-positioned to be a haven, a safe haven, for reproductive health care,” she said.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.