New Mexico-based abortion fund twice as busy as before pandemic

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This month, the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an abortion fund based in Albuquerque, helped 28 female patients obtain abortions, up from 15 in September 2020 when fears of COVID-19 prevented travel and 21 in September 2019.

And September isn’t over yet, said Brittany Defeo, program manager for the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The surge in demand is due to Texas’ six-week gestational abortion ban that went into effect earlier this month. Defeo said the coalition is the latest abortion fund that most female patients apply to because what the coalition offers – assistance with accommodation and travel to the airport, bus station or the station – are necessary services for the most economically dangerous people who need an abortion later in pregnancy, which requires an overnight stay.

But because of Texas law, the coalition is now seeing patients seeking their services even before 10 weeks gestation, as the patient has to travel to New Mexico to take abortion medication. Mifepristone is the first of the two-pill abortion regimen patients take at the clinic, Defeo said. For the safety of Texas patients, the coalition offers accommodation if the patient wishes to stay overnight to take the second pill, misoprostol, although it can be taken in the privacy of their own home.

The coalition is one of a handful of abortion funders in New Mexico. Each fund differs in who they serve and what they offer, but they all participate in a national network of abortion fund providers whose broader goal is to help those in need obtain care services. abortion they seek.

Related: An abortion fund for aboriginals is more than just a fund

When Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the faith-based coalition, spoke with NM Policy Report of the abortion patients that her organization serves, she has used words such as “love” and “trust”.

The coalition is a non-profit organization that tries to fill the void for those who lack the financial capacity to pay for the travel costs often associated with abortion. Despite the fact that abortion is legal, it is still out of reach for many, especially those who are marginalized, reproductive health experts have said.

The coalition operates mainly with volunteers. Over the summer, the coalition began preparing for the surge in patients from Texas in anticipation of how the six-week gestation ban would affect residents’ reproductive health needs. of that state.

Lamunyon Sanford said the coalition has raised an additional $ 25,000 in anticipation of the coalition’s increased need for services. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition is paying for motel rooms rather than relying on hospitality hosts, as it did before the pandemic.

So many people have reached out to help with volunteering that the organization hasn’t had a chance to hold enough orientation meetings, Lamunyon Sanford said.

“It was really wonderful. It’s just a show of love and support from the New Mexico community, ”she said.

Lamunyon Sanford, whose mother was an early nurse volunteer at the first Planned Parenthood clinic in New Mexico, became involved in the coalition as a telephone bank volunteer herself through her Methodist church. . She then became a volunteer board member, then volunteer general manager in 1999 and now runs the organization full time.

Lamunyon Sanford said faith groups in the early 1970s launched the coalition to support the Roe vs. Wade decision. The early founders believed their services would no longer be needed after a few years, she said.

Instead, the New Mexico chapter, which was founded in 1978, has grown from a fully voluntary organization to one with a paid staff of five, she said.

She said another first national coalition foundation was a clergy counseling network formed in 1969 to help women find a safe abortion provider when abortions were still illegal. Some of the first volunteers were women who claimed to need an abortion because it was the only way to accurately control a provider, Lamunyon Sanford said. She said the organization was powerful enough in its early days that it could negotiate a provider on the cost to make an abortion more affordable.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico’s abortion funds faced an increased need as Texas closed its abortion clinics in the first month of the pandemic. Today, abortion funds face a new challenge again. Lamunyon Sanford said the coalition is rising to this challenge, but the Texas ban has caused frustration and sadness, she said.

“We have heard from people who cannot make the trip. Even before that, it wouldn’t be unusual to have callers who had to reschedule their appointment or just don’t do it despite all the support we can provide, ”she said.

She told the story of a patient from Texas who found herself six and a half weeks pregnant the first week of September. Because the Texas ban prohibited the patient from having an abortion in Texas, the patient had to travel to Albuquerque to take the two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol.

Lamuyon Sanford said one of the side effects of the Texas ban is that because of “vigilance” – anyone can sue individuals or organizations in Texas who “help and encourage” someone. one to have an abortion – “people are hesitant to say why they need time off,” she said.

“We are very aware that there are people who just cannot come here,” she said.

When asked if she thought it might come as a surprise to some that an abortion fund is faith-based, she said that “people who use religion to deny access to abortion are a small but, unfortunately, a strong minority “.

“The use of abortion as a political issue is really where it’s coming from. The origins of the opposition to abortion are actually based on racism and have been pushed back to the Brown v. Education Council Supreme Court decision, ”she said.

She added that the Texas pregnancy ban is the “direct result” of 40 years of collaboration between the political and religious right in an “intentionally well-organized” manner.

Lamunyon Sanford said she has seen the anti-abortion community become more “emboldened” and more “desperate” over the years. But the coalition, which includes both Protestant and Catholic volunteers, trains its volunteers to listen to people’s stories and make room for individuals.

“I think the separation of church and state does not mean that we leave our faith and our values ​​at the door of the Roundhouse,” she said. NM Policy Report. “This is what motivates us to create a better world.

She called the Texas Legislature’s debate on the abortion ban “particularly disturbing” because supporters and sponsors of the law “were motivated by their faith, or said they were motivated by their faith. But this is just another example of the abuse and misuse of religion to justify prejudice and discrimination. “

She said religion is “finding a way to love and care for each other, not to harm each other.”


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