Las Cruces becomes a battleground in national abortion fight
As out-of-state abortion clinics relocate to New Mexico, anti-abortion groups also are stepping up efforts
A large crowd gathered to protest the arrival of a new abortion clinic in the city, and to support anti-abortion organizers’ plans to open their own crisis pregnancy center just a few doors down.
Organized by the Southwest Coalition for Life, a Christian non-profit with offices in Las Cruces and El Paso, the Tuesday rally and fundraiser marks a shift in focus for the region’s anti-abortion advocates. Flush with a victory from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to end federal abortion rights in June, they are turning their attention to states that protect abortion rights.
“New Mexico truly is the new frontline of the pro-life movement in post-Roe America,” said David Bereit, the founder and former CEO of 40 Days for Life, a group that seeks to end abortion internationally.
Bereit was one of about 10 speakers from across the country who urged the crowd to push for local measures that would limit abortion in Las Cruces, and to vote out New Mexico state lawmakers who support abortion rights.
“New Mexico will not be the back-alley abortion clinic for America,” said Michael Seibel, an Albuquerque-based attorney for the group Abortion on Trial, which takes legal actions against abortion providers.
Though its laws and court precedents largely protect abortion rights, access to abortion remains limited in New Mexico, especially in the southern part of the state that neighbors El Paso. The state has experienced increased demand for abortion services for about a year, ever since Texas lawmakers shrank the legal timeframe for abortions to roughly six weeks of pregnancy.
In response to a growing number of out-of-state patients, abortion providers have sought to ramp up capacity in New Mexico by opening new clinics and telehealth services in the state. With Texas set to outlaw nearly all abortions, demand for abortion services in New Mexico is expected to increase even more.
The new Las Cruces abortion clinic is relocating from Mississippi. The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, said she plans to open on Monday, July 25.
“Every (abortion) clinic in this country has protest,” Derzis said. “There’s nothing to talk about because we’re accustomed to this. It goes along with the issue. Are we surprised? No? Do we care? No.”
How anti-abortion groups are targeting upcoming Las Cruces clinic
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization was at the center of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Known as the Pink House because of its candy-colored paint job, the health care provider operated the only abortion clinic in Mississippi before it shut down in July.
Dubbed Pink House West, the new Las Cruces clinic at 2918 Hillrise Drive will offer medication abortion, also referred to as medical abortion, and surgical abortion through 19 weeks of pregnancy.
Mark Cavaliere, founder of Southwest Coalition for Life, said he wanted to open a pregnancy center as close as possible to Pink House West to counter the number of abortion clinics moving to New Mexico.
Two more abortion clinics are slated to open in southern New Mexico: Planned Parenthood in Las Cruces and Whole Woman’s Health near the Texas border, which is raising funds to relocate from Texas.
“People are going to feel like they have no option except to alter, to suppress and destroy a normal healthy function of their natural body,” Cavaliere said.
Crisis pregnancy centers, also known as pregnancy resource centers, outnumber abortion clinics in the U.S. They have a history of dissuading people who are considering an abortion.
Cavaliere said that he doesn’t believe abortion is health care, a stance that conflicts with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ position.
What to expect at new crisis pregnancy center in Las Cruces
Guiding Star Health Center is set to open at 2908 Hillrise Drive before the end of the year, with the goal of starting services at the same time Pink House West opens, said Cavaliere.
A sample floor plan of the center shows rooms for a chapel, ultrasound, lactation counseling, drop-in child care and adoption services. Long-term plans include operating birthing suites with doulas, nurses and midwives on site. Guiding Star aims to work with an obstetrician-gynecologist and obtain a medical license for the Las Cruces clinic, Cavaliere said.
The facility will be a branch of the national Guiding Star Project, operating in partnership with Southwest Coalition for Life.
Doctors and researchers criticize crisis pregnancy centers for providing inaccurate medical information and misleading their clients. Most crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. are not registered health clinics and many do not have licensed medical professionals on staff.
Guiding Star will have signs outside to catch the attention of Pink House West clients, Cavaliere said. Outreach workers will likely be posted outside to offer “support and information” to people considering abortion, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Derzis said a crisis pregnancy center opening next to Pink House West doesn’t stop her health clinic from offering its services.
“I’m glad they’re there and have something to offer to people who need their services,” Derzis said about Guiding Star. “As long as they don’t hassle women who are trying to access our medical care, we don’t have any problem with them at all.”
“If they provide a service people need, wonderful,” she said. “That has nothing to do with my business. Abortion is a choice people make after they carefully weigh the options available to them. That’s what we’re all about. A choice.”
The Guiding Star Project already operates seven pregnancy centers in the country, including one in El Paso, of which Cavaliere is CEO. This clinic is just several blocks away from the Planned Parenthood health clinic.
El Paso Planned Parenthood has stopped providing abortions but still offers other health services, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases, gender-affirming therapy and access to contraceptives.
Guiding Star does not promote the use of birth control, including condoms, said Edward Garcia, who counsels male clients at Guiding Star El Paso. Garcia plans to travel back and forth to Las Cruces to help set up the new pregnancy center.
Visitors to the Las Cruces center can expect guidance on natural family planning, a fertility tracking method approved by the Catholic Church. Birth control “built this disrespectful way of trying to find a mate” because it conditions women to use sex as leverage in their relationships, Garcia said.
“With birth control, it’s actually hindering your true hormonal cycle, your body; you’re just completely cutting off what your natural cycle is meant to do,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human services considers hormonal birth control, such as the pill, safe for most women.
Anti-abortion debate shifts toward legislation
The national Guiding Star Project advertises itself as the “new norm” in women’s health care.
The nonprofit’s founder Leah Jacobson, a speaker at Tuesday’s rally, noted that the majority of abortion patients have already had a child, which may make anti-abortion advocates “uncomfortable.”
“We are not being provided maternity leave policies,” Jacobson said. “We are not being provided lactation spaces. But you know what we are being offered? We’re being offered airfare to fly to Las Cruces (to get an abortion).”
Many in the rally’s crowd waved “Vote Republican” signs, but Republican lawmakers have balked at or even staunchly opposed spending money on paid family leave and other policies to support families and children, such as last fall’s Build Back Better Act. The bill would have extended child tax credits and provided permanent funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other measures,but failed after facing unanimous opposition from congressional Republicans.
Now that the Supreme Court has dismantled the federal right to abortion, the Republican Party is under pressure to rebrand itself as pro-family. One bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would grant parents paid leave for each new child, but would require them to dip into their Social Security to repay the benefit.
This report was originally published on El Paso Matters.