New Mexico was once among a handful of states where abortions later in pregnancy were available. That changed in January. - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico was once among a handful of states where abortions later in pregnancy were available. That changed in January.

Anti-abortion protesters gather for a prayer vigil outside of Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque. The clinic had been offering third trimester abortions but it recently put that program on hold. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: In the nine months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, New Mexico has emerged as a safe haven for those seeking abortion. This is the third installment in a series about abortion access in the state. The first can be found here and the second can be found here.

New Mexico is one of six states plus Washington, D.C., where there are no restrictions on when an abortion can be done during a pregnancy.

But the only clinic in the state to provide the procedure after 24 weeks stopped doing so earlier this year.

Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque had been a destination for people seeking to get an abortion in the third trimester since 2010, when two doctors who used to work with Dr. George Tiller joined the clinic after Tiller was assassinated in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Both have since retired but another doctor continued to specialize in the procedure until recently.

A spokeswoman for the clinic said the third trimester program was put on hold on Jan. 2 but declined to answer any other questions about it, the organization or its services.

Adrienne Mansanares, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said across the country there’s not a “robust landscape” of providers who will do abortions during the third trimester. And a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman added that it’s difficult to get an accurate number of those who do because many don’t advertise those services out of concern for their safety and security.

With Southwestern Women’s Options no longer offering the procedure, the closest clinic that does so is in Boulder, Colorado — another state that has no restrictions on abortion.

Planned Parenthood usually refers patients there or to California — which allows abortions after viability (usually 24 to 26 weeks) in order to save a pregnant person’s life or to preserve their general health (including mental health).

Abortion funds also refer patients to providers in the District of Columbia — which has no restrictions on abortion — or Maryland — which allows abortions after viability in order to save a pregnant person’s life or health or if the fetus has suffered or will suffer a serious health issue.

Abortion after 21 weeks is very rare — less than 1% of all abortions, according to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That is the most dire of circumstances for that pregnancy …,” Mansanares said. “They’ve got the nursery room painted, they’ve picked out a name. This is a pregnancy that had been planned and there’s been some kind of a fetal anomaly that had been detected.”

‘Pro-life’ protesters

Several days a week protesters — from a variety of anti-abortion groups — gather in front of Southwestern Women’s Options, which has become New Mexico’s highest profile clinic.

Activists speak through a bullhorn and hold signs offering to adopt a baby, quoting Bible verses and more. A case with replicas of fetuses at different ages has been set up on the sidewalk.

Among the best known “pro-life missionaries” are Tara and Bud Shaver and their group — now called Abortion Free New Mexico. They moved to New Mexico because of Southwestern Women’s Options.

The couple had been living in Wichita, Kansas, working for an anti-abortion group called Operation Rescue when a gunman killed Dr. Tiller in the foyer of his church. When two doctors who worked for him moved to Dr. Curtis Boyd’s facility in Albuquerque, the Shavers followed.

Pro-life activists Tara and Bud Shaver, founders of Abortion Free New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

“Our part whenever we first moved here in 2010 was really to do investigative research and undercover projects and just to kind of paint the picture of what the abortion industry looks like,” Tara Shaver said in an interview last week.

She said they would obtain 911 calls — with personal identifying information redacted — and use them “to show people the kinds of injuries that could occur in an abortion facility.” They have filed complaints to the state Medical Board and succeeded in getting it to launch formal reviews into providers from Southwestern Women’s Options.

Their ranks of volunteers conducting prayer vigils and protests on sidewalks outside of clinics grew after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Shaver said. They document when ambulances come and go.

“We really want to make doing abortions in New Mexico as uncomfortable as possible and we want to document the reality of what’s happening in these places,” Shaver said. “The pro-abortion side says that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. But they’re never safe for the unborn child.”

Shaver called Southwestern Women’s Options pause of abortions after 24 weeks a “small victory, certainly, for the third trimester babies” and said she does not believe there should be any exceptions for fetal abnormalities.

“If their baby has a fetal abnormality then we’re going to be there and support them through the whole process,” she said. “If their baby is not going to survive very long outside the womb at least she’s going to have a chance to hold her baby, bond with him or her and have a chance to meet them as opposed to taking their life prematurely, and always wondering what may have been.”

Doctor’s death

Dr. Carmen Landau had been listed on Southwestern Women’s Options website as its specialist in third trimester abortions as recently as August.

She was in the early stages of launching another abortion care facility when she died in mid-October while attending a conference for the National Harm Reduction Coalition — which focuses on the overdose crisis — in Puerto Rico.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Southwestern Women’s Options said its pause in third trimester abortions is unrelated to Landau’s death.

“Our hearts remain with her family,” Robin Sikes wrote in a statement.

Landau’s family did not respond to requests for an interview.

But in a statement published shortly after her death they said it was sudden and unexpected and that she had been a “beloved and badass mom, sister, wife, and dear friend.”

“She devoted her professional life to providing abortion care and reproductive health care — fiercely and courageously defending her patients’ self-determination and dignity …,” the statement reads. “As an internationally celebrated physician, Carmen mentored countless health care providers on centering patients and providing trauma-informed and affirming care with true integrity.”

Others in the medical community are mourning her, too.

When Dr. Amber Truehart, the medical director at the UNM Center for Reproductive Health, moved to New Mexico in August 2021 she said Landau welcomed her with open arms.

“She was a great person,” Truehart said. “She was a big loss just to Albuquerque in general.”

Now, she said, Southwestern Women’s Options has all new providers, mostly from Dallas, who fly in for work.

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