As the national war over abortion intensifies, abortion clinics in New Mexico have become havens for people fleeing abortion bans. (CREDIT: Jika González)
As the national war over abortion intensifies, abortion clinics in New Mexico have become havens for people fleeing abortion bans. (CREDIT: Jika González)

“It Could End Abortion in America”: Two Tiny Towns At the Center of the Abortion Wars

New Mexico has emerged as one of the key battlefronts in the U.S. war over abortion.

SANTA TERESA, New Mexico — When Paulina Caballero’s pregnancy made her so nauseous that she could no longer cook for her kids, she realized that she could not go through with it.

At 29, the Texas native was already a mother of three. She suffers, she said, from a medical condition that leads her to vomit uncontrollably during pregnancy and forces her to spend months in the hospital. During her first pregnancy, she lost 50 pounds. During her second, she lost 80. During her third, 40.


“I was pro-life. I didn’t like people getting abortions,” Caballero said. But she could not stomach the idea of spending months trapped, again, in a hospital, away from her children and unable to hold down a job. She and her husband also struggled with money; recently, they got so strapped she tried to donate plasma for cash.

So, Caballero left her hometown of El Paso and traveled across state lines to New Mexico, to the town of Santa Teresa—home to one of the few abortion clinics in the state. 

“It sucks that, in your own hometown, you feel like you’re doing something illegal,” Caballero told VICE News, as she sat in one of the clinic’s back rooms minutes after taking a pill to end her pregnancy. “At least my husband can help me pay for this. What about other young girls who are scared to tell their parents or anything like that? It’s just scary. Who can actually come out here? It’s pretty far.”

Despite the hurdles, people like Caballero are finding their way to New Mexico: Between April and August 2022, the number of abortions performed in New Mexico spiked by 17 percent, according to an October report by the Society of Family Planning.

New Mexico has emerged as one of the key battlefronts in the U.S. war over abortion. In interviews with abortion rights supporters, foes, and patients since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a story of tensions simmering in the state has emerged, both between the two sides of the abortion wars and within the pro-abortion rights movement itself. Both abortion rights activists and their enemies are, in a funhouse-mirror kind of way, facing the same questions: Now that abortion is being fought over in every corner of the country, who gets to lead the charge? Will locals and local laws triumph, or can people from the rest of the nation shoulder their way in?


These questions are not unique to New Mexico. In fact, they are now threatening to tear apart communities across the country. 

“You really have these states that are the two extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum—Texas protecting life from the moment that it biologically comes into existence, and New Mexico,” said Mark Cavaliere, CEO of the anti-abortion Southwest Coalition for Life. (There is no scientific consensus on when life begins, or even what “life” is.) Cavaliere continued, “Because of the geographic location, it’s essentially become like the back alley abortion clinic for the entire state of Texas. We regularly see women traveling 16 hours because they feel they have no other option and they don’t have the support and they’re traveling from Texas.”

Dr. Franz Theard's clinic is located in the small town of Santa Teresa, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.​ (CREDIT: Jika González)

Dr. Franz Theard's clinic is located in the small town of Santa Teresa, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.​ (CREDIT: Jika González)

A blue stronghold on the fringes of the red South, New Mexico is in prime position to serve people fleeing abortion bans. Abortion clinics have noticed: Multiple famous clinics have announced that they are relocating operations from states with abortion bans to New Mexico. Even the Satanic Temple, which has a long history of filing (fruitless) lawsuits to protect abortion rights, has announced that it will open a telehealth clinic in the state. In September, the state’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, also announced that she would devote $10 million in state funds to opening a reproductive care clinic in a New Mexico border city, in a stunning move of support for abortion.


Those relocations have sparked anti-abortion fervor in some New Mexico counties, as activists have drifted up from Texas to pioneer new methods of taking down abortion—like trying to start legal battles over a 19th-century anti-obscenity law that could devastate access to the procedure across the country. They have also rattled some local reproductive rights activists, who worry that newcomers to the state may overlook the people who have long called New Mexico home. As New Mexico’s role in the abortion wars grows in strategic and symbolic significance, it could be all too easy for outsiders to forget that New Mexico’s residents want more than just abortion clinics in Albuquerque. 

“There is some tension between people who are coming in from out of state and how they are partnering or not partnering with the community and community organizations,” said Dr. Eve Espey, an abortion provider and the chair of the OB-GYN department at the University of New Mexico. “There is the real concern that it will change politics in New Mexico.” 

Dr. Franz Theard, owner of the Women’s Reproductive Clinic of New Mexico, where Caballero got her abortion, put it a little differently: “If New Mexico is now known as the abortion capital of America, so be it.”

“If New Mexico is now known as the abortion capital of America, so be it.”

Most of Dr. Franz Theard's patients come to his New Mexico clinic from Texas, where almost all abortions are banned. (CREDIT: Jika González)

Most of Dr. Franz Theard's patients come to his New Mexico clinic from Texas, where almost all abortions are banned. (CREDIT: Jika González)

When Whole Woman’s Health, a network of abortion clinics that were once the face of abortion in Texas, announced it would be closing its four Texas facilities and opening one in New Mexico, CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller initially imagined opening up a clinic on the New Mexico border. There, the clinic could easily open its doors to fleeing Texans and other southerners. She looked at places like Hobbs and Clovis, small communities that lay close to the border between New Mexico and Texas. 


Then Mark Lee Dickson showed up. 

Dickson, a self-proclaimed thirtysomething virgin who has a chin-strap beard and wears a baseball cap like it’s a uniform, first made a name for himself in Texas, where he championed local ordinances that turned localities into what he called “sanctuary cities for the unborn.” Essentially, these ordinances ban abortion within city or county limits, regardless of what state or federal law says. At least 64 localities, most of which don’t even have abortion clinics, have passed some variation on these ordinances—including, as of January, Hobbs, Clovis, and two other New Mexico counties. 

The ordinances in New Mexico didn’t look exactly like other “sanctuary city of the unborn” ordinances, though. Instead, they relied on a novel tactic dreamed up, Dickson said, by Dickson and his attorney, Jonathan Mitchell (who also helped architect the controversial 2021 Texas six-week abortion ban). Rather than straightforwardly declaring abortion illegal, the ordinances instead rely on an 1873 federal anti-obscenity law, the Comstock Act, to ban the mailing of abortion-related materials.

They took this roundabout path, Dickson told VICE News, because he suspects that New Mexico will soon move to add protections for abortion to its state constitution. Unlike other so-called “haven states,” like Kansas and Illinois, New Mexico does not currently have those protections for abortion. 


“While we don’t want a lawsuit, if they do bring it, we’re not afraid,” Dickson said. “If they really want to challenge these ordinances, we say bring it on, because we know that these ordinances are strong. And if they come against us, we will defend these ordinances. Even up to the Supreme Court if need be.”

Dickson believes that, if the Supreme Court and its 6-3 conservative majority decide the long-dormant Comstock Act is good law, people across the country would be blocked from mailing abortion-related materials. He added, “If I was the other side, I wouldn’t want to go before the Supreme Court in the United States asking questions about these statutes, because it could end abortion in America.”

Dickson’s strategy of deploying old laws to prop up new ones doesn’t just question the validity of centuries-old legislation. It also summons up the classic American tug-of-war between small and large governments, pitting localities against the very states they belong to. In late January New Mexico’s attorney general took the bait: Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed a writ accusing the ordinances in Hobbs and Clovis, as well as two other New Mexico counties, of violating the state’s constitution. 

The writ was filed in state court, where the New Mexico Supreme Court could address it, rather than in federal court. After years of anti-abortion activists pushing to overturn Roe by arguing that abortion access should be decided by the states, Torrez told VICE News it was “hypocrisy” for those same activists to now want the federal government to weigh in. He dismissed anti-abortion activists’ weaponization of the Comstock Act, pointing to a recent Justice Department opinion that found the law doesn’t block people from mailing abortion-inducing drugs (as long as they’re meant to be used legally). 


“It’s a red herring,” Torrez said. “It’s something that these anti-abortion activists in the local jurisdictions have dressed up, because they’re hoping to be able to turn this into a federal question when it fundamentally isn’t.”

The brewing battle in New Mexico isn’t the only example of anti-abortion activists attempting to resurface the Comstock Act. Over in Texas, abortion opponents have accused the Food and Drug Administration of violating the act in a federal lawsuit over mifepristone, one of the drugs typically used in U.S. medication abortions. (They also say that the FDA overstepped its authority when it approved mifepristone for use in abortions 23 years ago.) Joanna Grossman, a visiting professor at Stanford Law School who teaches about the Comstock Act, was not quite ready to dismiss their efforts.

The Comstock Act went dormant in part because of Roe, Grossman said. Now that Roe is gone, anti-abortion activists may be able to invoke it.

“By eliminating the constitutional protection for abortion, they have unsealed a variety of Pandora’s boxes, probably many of them unintended, and this might be one of them,” she said. “There are viable questions about whether the Comstock Act might have some applicability here. I don’t know what the answer is.”


Torrez is well aware that his writ could have sweeping implications for how abortion rights supporters handle localities’ attempts to undermine state abortion laws.

“This was something that would be a test case, both in New Mexico and across the country,” he said. “Being scared about what might happen in litigation is no longer an option. We have to get a lot more aggressive.”

“Being scared about what might happen in litigation is no longer an option. We have to get a lot more aggressive.”

Do you, or someone you know, have a story you'd like to share about having an abortion after Roe v. Wade's overturning? Contact reporter Carter Sherman at or

Ultimately, Hagstrom Miller from Whole Woman's Health has decided to open up a brick-and-mortar clinic in Albuquerque, though she does not yet have an opening date. She stressed that she didn’t stop looking at Hobbs and Clovis because of anti-abortion activists’ tactics. Instead, she said, she started to worry about safety.

“The majority of our patients that we serve and the majority of people who work at Whole Woman's Health, including our providers, are people of color. I need to be sure that, as much as I can, we open up clinics in places where everybody can be safe and everybody can be protected and be respected,” Hagstrom Miller said. Abortion providers and patients have reported a recent spike in assaults, bomb threats, and stalking, according to a report last year from the National Abortion Federation, which tracks harassment and violence against abortion providers in the United States, Canada, Mexico City, and Colombia.


So far, Hagstrom Miller said, New Mexico has felt less politically charged than Texas. But she was still struck by the number of regulatory hoops her team has had to jump through to get the Albuquerque clinic off the ground.

“My administrator had to have a fingerprint background check. I’ve never had to do that in any state anywhere before,” Hagstrom Miller said. “So that was pretty onerous.”

Albuquerque already has three abortion clinics, according to the Abortion Access Dashboard, a map of abortion clinics compiled by Middlebury College. But that doesn’t mean that getting an abortion there is easy.

Theard’s Santa Teresa clinic only performs medication abortions, which are induced by pills that the FDA has only approved for use through the 10th week of pregnancy. When patients come in who are past that point, Theard sometimes tries to send them to an Albuquerque clinic—but sometimes his patients have to wait two to three weeks for an open appointment.

“Then they go from 11 weeks to 14 weeks” of pregnancy, Theard said. “And it’s never a good idea to wait that long.”

Dr. Franz Theard has worked as an abortion provider for more than 30 years, mostly in Texas. Now, he provides medication abortions in New Mexico. (CREDIT: Jika González)

Dr. Franz Theard has worked as an abortion provider for more than 30 years, mostly in Texas. Now, he provides medication abortions in New Mexico. (CREDIT: Jika González)

Espey works at an Albuquerque abortion clinic that has seen its patient volume double since Roe’s overturning, Espey told VICE News in November. More than half of those patients are fleeing abortion bans in states like Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, she said. The number of patients seeking second-trimester abortions has also quintupled since Roe’s demise, because so many people are now unable to get abortions earlier on in pregnancy. 


New Mexican abortion rights activists worry that, by placing so many clinics in the liberal metropolis of Albuquerque, everybody else in the state will end up at a disadvantage.

“To say that New Mexico has access when there were literally three clinics in the state is unreasonable. We live in a giant state. It takes me three hours on the highway to get to Albuquerque,” said Charlene Bencomo, executive director of the New Mexico reproductive justice organization Bold Futures. “That in itself does not equal access.” 

Bencomo also believes that abortion providers and reproductive rights activists looking to make inroads into New Mexico need to prioritize building community and improving reproductive health overall. Last year, Bold Futures released a 16-page guidebook for those advocates. Among its top demands: Don’t just offer abortion.

“We don’t just want providers who are relocating because they don’t have another choice. We want people who want to be part of this community,” said Bencomo, who was born and raised in southern New Mexico. “We have worked so, so hard to secure the landscape that allows for abortion care, and we want to make sure to protect that. And at the same time, many, many parts of New Mexico lack basic reproductive health care and have for decades.”

“We cannot continue to just isolate abortion,” she added.

Bencomo has another particular demand for new abortion clinics. “If you are not offering to take Medicaid as a payment, then that tells me that you are here not for the folks that are in New Mexico, but for folks that are coming from out-of-state,” she said. “And while that’s important and we know the need is huge, it lends itself to thinking you’re here to be opportunistic and not necessarily to support the needs of the people that are here in the state.” 


Whole Woman’s Health will both take Medicaid and offer services beyond abortion. Theard does not take Medicaid and never has, although he does practice other forms of gynecology at his clinic. He’s had a clinic in New Mexico for years, but by his own admission did not travel there much until after he shut down his other clinic in El Paso, Texas. With a small staff, Theard said he doesn’t want to deal with the complexity of Medicaid. Plus, most of his patients are from Texas, not New Mexico.

There is a chance that Theard’s clinic may not exist much longer, which means New Mexico—and all the abortion patients who rely on it—may lose one of its few abortion clinics outside of Albuquerque. If the Amarillo lawsuit results in a federal ban on mifepristone, Theard said he’s likely to stop performing abortions entirely, since his clinic currently only offers medication abortions. “I will not be doing surgery,” he said. “If the abortion pill’s out nationally, I’m out.”

Caballero, the woman who constantly vomits when she’s pregnant, told VICE News that her husband had to work 12-hour shifts just to afford her abortion in Santa Teresa. At $700, the procedure cost half as much as their rent. 

If Caballero had to travel to Albuquerque for an abortion, she likely would have had to spend three days there and used the return from her income taxes to pay for the abortion. She’s not sure what she would have done with her husband or her three kids.

“I'm just scared of going to the hospital and dying,” Caballero said. “So I probably would have made that sacrifice to go to Albuquerque.”

But as high a price as Caballero would have to pay to get to Albuquerque, others would pay even more. Recently, an undocumented woman arrived at Theard’s clinic, only to find that, because she was more than 11 weeks into her pregnancy, she could not get an abortion there. She already had three kids, and her husband lives in Mexico.

“Normally we’d send [her] to our friends in Albuquerque,” said Theard, who recounted the story to VICE News. “But she said, ‘Well, doctor, no bueno.’ ‘Porque que?’ ‘There’s a checkpoint after Las Cruces.’”

Luckily for the woman, Jackson’s Women Health Organization—which used to run the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, before that state banned abortion—has set up an abortion clinic in Las Cruces, another town close to the New Mexico border. After giving her a refund, Theard helped her schedule an appointment at an abortion clinic there. 

Bold Futures is now in the process of setting up its own reproductive health care clinic, which will offer abortions, in Las Cruces. Although the clinic’s founding will be fueled by the $10 million pledged by Gov. Lujan Grisham, Bencomo said that the clinic will need even more money to get off the ground. It will also likely be more than a year, if not two, before it opens.

“We want this type of care—and it cannot be care at all costs,” Bencomo said. “We’re not even seeing the full effect that is going to come down the line.”

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