Abortion remains legal in New Mexico, a blue state, but on Monday night, the all-male city council of the small town of Hobbs, New Mexico, voted unanimously to become a “sanctuary city” for the unborn, banning abortion within its borders. The vote complicates matters for a Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic that used to operate in Texas, which had planned to relocate to Hobbs or the nearby town of Clovis. Last week, Clovis passed and then placed on hold a similar anti-abortion ordinance, as city commissioners said the vote felt too rushed.
Both Hobbs and Clovis are small towns located in the conservative, eastern region of New Mexico, near the Texas border. Last year, Texas enacted a near-total abortion ban enforced by the threat of costly civil lawsuits. Following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June, the state enacted a ban that threatens abortion providers with life in prison and a $100,000 fine. Neither of these bans have exceptions for victims of rape and incest, and have resulted in states bordering Texas absorbing thousands of the state’s abortion patients.
“Sanctuary cities” outlawing abortion aren’t new. A 2021 report from the Guttmacher Institute found that at least 30 towns in six states—Arkansas, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Texas—have approved municipal abortion bans in the last three years. But ordinances like this are largely symbolic: The Guardian noted last year that many of these towns didn’t even have abortion clinics within their borders.
Now, post-Roe, as clinics from states that have banned abortion take steps to relocate to cities in Democratic states like New Mexico, Hobbs’ ordinance is concerning: more GOP-controlled towns in blue states that could provide safe haven for abortion clinics could adopt similar measures. Border towns have emerged as a partial solution to state abortion bans, with independent clinics and Planned Parenthood already setting up mobile abortion clinics right across the border from red states.
A traveling preacher and director of Right to Life of East Texas, Mark Lee Dickson has pioneered anti-abortion sanctuary city ordinances, identifying cities with anti-abortion leaders and pressuring them to adopt municipal bans. Dickson told Reuters that more than 50 cities have become a part of his “sanctuary city movement.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appeared to reference Dickson in tweets responding to the news from Hobbs. “Tonight the Hobbs City Commission approved an anti-abortion resolution authored by out-of-state extremists seeking to criminalize essential reproductive health care,” Lujan Grisham on Monday, calling the Hobbs city council’s vote “an affront to the rights & personal autonomy of every woman in New Mexico.”
She continued, “As long as I am governor, abortion will remain legal and protected in every corner of our state. Providers delivering health care have every right to establish a practice, and all women have the right to access abortion services—no matter where in New Mexico they call home.”
It’s not clear whether or how Hobbs’ abortion ban will be enforced, since there isn’t an abortion clinic within its jurisdiction. However, if nothing else, the ordinance may place Hobbs residents who self-manage their abortions or experience pregnancy loss at greater risk of being criminalized by local law enforcement. The rise of anti-abortion “sanctuary cities” also means clinics from red states, like Whole Women’s Health, will face even more complications and threats when trying to relocate while still remaining as close as possible to the populations they originally served.
Whole Woman’s Health did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.