New Mexico organizations to bring reproductive health care center to Doña Ana County

Leah Romero
Las Cruces Sun-News
Demonstrators listen to abortion rights activists and other demonstrators share their feelings and fears about the overturning of Roe v. Wade during the Bans Off Las Cruces abortion rights demonstration on Friday, June 24, 2022.

LAS CRUCES - Four New Mexico organizations have partnered to establish a full-spectrum reproductive health care center in Doña Ana County, projected to be fully operational within the next couple of years.

University of New Mexico Health and Sciences Center started the Reproductive Healthcare Success Project (RHSP) in 2021, through which it surveyed the state, looking for a location that would most benefit from access to a wide range of reproductive health care. Such care would include services such as contraception options, prenatal and postnatal care, lactation support, hormonal treatment, infertility treatment, sexually transmitted infection and cancer screenings, miscarriage management, adoption education and resources, fundamental sex education, along with medication and procedural abortion care.

The idea is to create a center based on the ideals held by the surrounding community that is “culturally-congruent, gender-affirming, trauma-informed, and ready to serve all people,” according to a news release.

This project was started long before Roe V. Wade was repealed through the U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Charlene Bencomo, executive director of Bold Futures, explained that this work was spurred on at the time by the potential reversal of Roe and the longtime need to offer better access to care. Bold Futures is a non-profit that “leads policy change, research, place-based organizing, and culture shift by and for women and people of color in New Mexico,” according to their website.

Bold Futures got involved with the UNM project during summer 2021. Bencomo said they helped with widening community engagement, gauging the reactions of various community members to such a facility and what they voiced about health care needs.

“We were instrumental in recruiting folks who are instrumental, along with Strong Families, and hosting virtual meetings,” Bencomo said. “Every week from September to December of last year, we held meetings with different community leaders. Everyone from mental health workers, doulas, midwives, OB/GYNs, queer and trans folks, young people, folks that are working with youth in these communities.”

Strong Families New Mexico also got involved with the project, as well as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Bencomo said Santa Fe, McKinley and Doña Ana Counties were identified as three possible locations. She said the groups were initially looking for “what supports people had in accessing reproductive health care in these more rural communities and what challenges they faced as well.”

Ultimately, all four groups decided that Doña Ana County made the most sense for such a project.

“I am a person who was born and raised in Las Cruces. I've lived here the majority of my life, and I know that it can be really difficult to access basic reproductive health care including pap smears, including prenatal classes and information, lactation support — all of these things that I've been through in my own life,” Bencomo said. “There's a lot of things that people may need across their lifetime that are inside of that category of reproductive health care, and somehow or another we've gotten so focused on abortion that that seems to take over the conversations.”

At this point, an advisory board of about 13 has been created to help move the project forward and establish the foundation. Members include community leaders from local and surrounding areas who will work for about nine months to get things started. Establishing long-term funding to ensure the center is sustainable for many years to come is on the agenda, as well as finding a location for the center and electing a board of directors.

Bencomo said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already pledged $10 million to the center, though certain criteria still need to be met before money exchanges hands. Further funding opportunities are being explored.

Location is particularly important because one goal is to make the center accessible to people within all of Doña Ana County, as well as surrounding areas. Language differences and disabilities are also part of accessibility considerations.

“We want to make sure that we’re really strategic and intentional. It’s not just your average health center opening the doors,” Bencomo said. “We want this to look and feel and be a different experience for people, and that’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Bencomo said other needs include staff, fleshing out exactly what services will be provided and other paperwork. There is no established timeline now for when the community might see this center up and running, but Bencomo said hopefully within the next year or two.

Financial accessibility is another aspect of care being considered, appealing to as wide a population as possible with all kinds of abilities, financial or otherwise.

“Hopefully this can serve as a model for other areas, not just in our state but in the nation as we look at many, many more restrictions coming for not only abortion care, but contraception and who knows what else,” Bencomo said.

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Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, LRomero@lcsun-news.com or @rromero_leah on Twitter.