SANTA TERESA, N.M. (CN) — To get an abortion, Alicia had to travel more than 600 miles. The 24-year-old and her mother left Dallas last Friday, taking a flight and sleeping at an El Paso motel.
The next morning, they drove in a rental car just across the state border, to the El Paso suburb of Santa Teresa in New Mexico. Here, in a nondescript office park less than a mile from Texas, is the Women’s Reproductive Clinic. For months, it’s been a lifeline for Texans who can no longer get abortions in their home state.
That Friday, Alicia and her mother learned the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. Alicia was angry. Anti-abortion lawmakers "are not going to help me raise this baby," she said.
"What if I was homeless?" she said. "Would they expect me to live on the street with it?" (Alicia’s name, like those of other patients in this story, has been changed to protect her safety and privacy, as well as the possibility of any future legal repercussions in Texas.)
Even before the fall of Roe, Texas had already effectively outlawed abortion. The GOP-controlled Legislature last year banned abortions past six weeks, using a strange legal loophole that allows private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" the procedure.
On its face, the law was a clear violation of Roe — but courts largely upheld it on the grounds that private citizens, not state officials, would be enforcing it. Last September, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Texas’ law on these same grounds. Other states, including Oklahoma, soon adopted the same enforcement mechanism.
Now, it will indeed be state officials going after doctors and patients. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to "immediately" enforce a Texas abortion law from the 1920s, but that plan has been blocked for now. Even in much more liberal states like Michigan, abortion bans from decades ago are still on the books.
At least a dozen states have also passed "trigger laws" designed to automatically ban abortion after Roe was overturned. Texas' law, which is set to take effect in July, could send doctors to prison for life.
As abortion rights crumble nationwide, experts predict that places where abortion remains accessible, including New Mexico, will become "safe harbor" states for desperate patients. At the Women’s Reproductive Clinic last weekend, that dynamic was already playing out.
"I wish women’s voices were more heard and valued,” said Carolina, who had come from Dallas to support her stepdaughter through an abortion. "We need to make our own decisions."
The patients arrived all morning, most with Texas plates, many with boyfriends or family members. A few had flown, but most had driven at least five hours to receive a procedure that recently was fully legal in Texas.
They left tired, sad, angry and confused. All had their own reasons for why they didn’t want or couldn’t have a child. Elsa, a 25-year-old from Waco, already had kids and had just lifted herself out of poverty. "It was hard getting time off of work" for the procedure, she said. Another patient, from Austin, had been on birth control, but a different medication had messed with it and she had gotten pregnant anyway.
Dr. Franz Theard, the owner of this clinic, said around half of his patients now come from East Texas on the opposite side of the state. Some come from even farther, including Louisiana and Oklahoma. Many arrive on the weekends, when they’re able to take time off for the long journey.