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A New Mexico clinic that offers abortions later in pregnancy braces for more patients

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, finding and receiving abortion care will take more time and become more difficult for many patients. And that means abortions later in pregnancy are likely to become more common. But there are only a handful of clinics in the U.S. that offer abortion past 28 weeks of pregnancy. One of them is Southwestern Women's Options in Albuquerque, N.M. Reporter Grace Benninghoff recently visited the clinic and has this story.

GRACE BENNINGHOFF, BYLINE: In the pale pink waiting room at Southwestern Women's Options, there is not a single empty chair.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right.

BENNINGHOFF: So just around here?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah, just there...

BENNINGHOFF: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...To the waiting room.

BENNINGHOFF: One woman covers her face, quietly sobbing, another calmly fills out paperwork in a shirt that barely buttons over her belly. Many patients here have traveled from other states because this clinic offers later abortions. Since Texas restricted abortions last year, the clinic has seen more than twice as many patients per week, almost all of them after the first trimester.

CHRISTINA: We've had to drastically change the way that we do things here in the clinic because there was no way that we would be able to meet that need.

BENNINGHOFF: That's the assistant director of Southwestern Women's Options, Christina (ph). She asked that only her middle name be used because she fears harassment. The spike in demand the clinic has seen these past nine months is minor compared to what's expected now that Roe has been overturned.

CHRISTINA: We can only do so much. Like, we can only do what we can.

BENNINGHOFF: Do now that abortions are no longer available in many states, later abortion will be more common. It will just take patients longer to get care. While they book flights, save up and wait for appointments, their pregnancies will, of course, progress. One patient, Beth Vial (ph), traveled from Oregon to Southwestern Women's Options in Albuquerque. She couldn't find a provider in her hometown.

BETH VIAL: I only had 10 days to figure out where I was going to get an abortion.

BENNINGHOFF: After a false negative on a home pregnancy test, a positive during a regular physical and a visit to a crisis pregnancy center that tried to dissuade her from ending the pregnancy, she learned she was 26 weeks along. She had unstable housing and no family support. She knew she needed an abortion. Her doctor told her about Southwestern Women's Options. They had an appointment available, but the cost of the procedure, a flight and hotel would add up to about $15,000.

VIAL: At that point, I thought abortion was out of the question. I didn't know what I was going to do.

BENNINGHOFF: She had assistance from a combination of four organizations that help with abortion costs. And a family friend came through. Soon, she was on a flight to New Mexico, but she had some complications with the procedure. She was at the clinic for 20 hours.

VIAL: My doctor and my nurse stayed the entire time. They slept - one of them slept on the chair next to me. And it was a kind of compassion I had never experienced before.

BENNINGHOFF: There are six states, plus the District of Columbia, where abortion is legal at any point in pregnancy, but it isn't always available past 28 weeks. There have always been reasons why someone might need an abortion so late - fetal abnormalities, life-threatening health risks. But now, with fewer clinics doing abortions at all, that list of reasons will be longer.

CURTIS BOYD: These are tender moments. They're hard decisions.

BENNINGHOFF: Dr. Curtis Boyd is founder of Southwestern Women's Options.

BOYD: Often, these are very wanted pregnancies. Women are devastated. They want to view the baby. Some do. Some don't. They want blessings. You know, they've just lost - they've lost their baby. They want that acknowledged.

BENNINGHOFF: Abortions after 28 weeks account for less than 1% of all procedures, and they require more specialized care. Boyd says the doctors who provide them face unrelenting harassment.

BOYD: Arson attempts here on this building, multiple fires set outside, we've had windows broken out. It's endless.

BENNINGHOFF: Boyd is not only a doctor. He's also a Baptist minister. Even though the anti-abortion movement is supported by many in Boyd's faith, providing abortions aligns with his religious belief - to be of service.

BOYD: I need to maintain a sense of compassion. We're committed to each other. We are compassionate toward each other's situations and needs.

BENNINGHOFF: This is a core belief for Boyd, to give to others all he can to help them succeed. Abortion care is what he has to offer. Even though New Mexico has laws protecting abortion, Boyd isn't certain the procedure will always be legal there, but he is certain about the implications for women.

BOYD: They will never have equality if they cannot decide for themselves whether or not they're going to continue their pregnancy - never.

BENNINGHOFF: He says without that right, they will never have the liberty promised to them in the Constitution. For NPR News, I'm Grace Benninghoff in Albuquerque. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Grace Benninghoff
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