Rep. Leger Fernandez raises funds to aid women in Texas seeking abortions

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Nov. 3—Emails from U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández's reelection campaign asking supporters for money are not unusual.

One sent Saturday thanked those on the congresswoman's supporter list for their contributions and stressed the importance of raising "the last $3,885 we need to meet our target." It encouraged supporters to "click here to chip in." An email sent Sunday, which fell on Oct. 31, said Leger Fernández, a Democrat representing New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, was seeking donations "one last time this month."

On Monday, her campaign issued a different pitch: a fundraising letter asking for direct financial support for New Mexico organizations that are helping women in Texas gain access to abortions.

Among the groups are the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Indigenous Women Rising and the Mariposa Fund.

"New Mexicans are welcoming our neighbors from Texas with open arms, open hearts, and open health centers, but the journey across state lines to access health care is often logistically and financially out of reach for many patients," Leger Fernández said in a statement Tuesday. "These organizations work to remove those financial barriers for patients in Texas and across the country."

In September, Texas enacted Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which makes an abortion illegal to perform after six weeks of pregnancy. The law targets abortion providers and those who aid and abet people seeking abortions. It allows the public to enforce the law by suing providers who perform an abortion after six weeks gestation.

The new law makes no exceptions for abortions sought in the case of rape or incest.

In September, the Supreme Court refused to block enforcement of SB 8 but fast-tracked two appeals — one from an abortion provider in Whole Women's Health v. Jackson and another from the Biden administration in United States v. Texas. It heard oral arguments in both cases Monday.

At issue was the structure of the law itself, which critics say was devised to avoid review in federal court.

Both liberal and conservative justices appeared sympathetic to the idea that the Texas law was written too broadly and could impact other constitutional rights, such as the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Other states also have enacted strict abortion laws this year, while New Mexico repealed a decades-old and unenforceable ban on the procedure.

There was a sense of urgency among progressive Democrats and abortion rights advocates in the state to approve the measure, which had failed in past legislative sessions, due to growing concern that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court could overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade prohibiting stringent government limits on abortion access.

"Supporting patients' constitutional right to abortion care means working to make it truly accessible," Leger Fernández said in her statement. "I'm proud that there are organizations in New Mexico doing this critical work."

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said she has seen a steady increase in callers since SB 8 was enacted Sept. 1. The nonprofit group funds abortion-related expenses for people seeking abortions, including airfare, hotels, prescriptions and clinic fees.

The group received 47 calls in September — 33 of them from Texas, she said, adding the group received only 14 calls in September 2020, including one from Texas.

"People are becoming more and more aware that they can go out of state and that there are resources to help them," she said.

Her organization is a member of a national network of abortion funders and often teams up with local funders in other states.

"What we do as a faith-rooted organization is that thing that all faiths have in common, and that's to care for one another," Lamunyon Sanford said. "We do that because we trust that they've made the right decision, according to their own life and their own circumstances."

She said Leger Fernández understands the important role abortion funds play in ensuring access.

Providing service is important, Lamunyon Sanford said, but working toward policy change also is critical.

"I would love it if there was no longer a need for fundraising for abortion funds," she said. "We'd love to advocate ourselves out of existence."

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