DALLAS — The Women's Reproductive Clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, has been maneuvering through the ever-changing legal landscape of women's reproductive rights.
Dr. Franz Theard walked in Tuesday to a full slate of patients like every day. They aren't normally open but had to because of the need to see patients in a timely manner.
Eighteen patients are scheduled for the day, and some may not show.
"It's non-stop. Like 'please hold, please hold, please hold,'" recalled a staffer who takes calls on a busy day at the clinic.
The Women's Reproductive Clinic is not just any clinic. It is the only clinic hundreds of miles from anywhere in Texas for women wanting abortions.
The clinic was started by Dr. Theard, who is an OBGYN going on 45 years. He only does medication abortions.
"I give them hope. I give them options. I give them solutions," said Dr. Theard.
Dr. Theard showed WFAA the large stack of patient folders that are labeled by cities. The majority of the folders are from Texas, specifically from Dallas and Houston.
He originally had a clinic in El Paso that he had to shut down because of the way he says things were moving legislatively in Texas.
Dr. Theard's clinic is uniquely positioned. It is five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and less than a mile from the Texas state line. The state of New Mexico does not have major abortion restrictions like many of its surrounding states.
"As long as I'm Governor everyone in the state of New Mexico will be protected, out of state residents seeking access will be protected, providers will be protected. And abortion is and will continue to be legal, safe, and accessible, period," said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during a press conference in June.
The passage of SB 8 in Texas has prompted many Texas women to seek abortions in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
SB 8, known as the “heartbeat bill,” went into effect on Sept. 1, 2021. The bill effectively bans abortions as early as six weeks and before most women know they are pregnant.
And then in late June, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, which was the longtime legal precedent guaranteeing the right of legal abortion in the U.S.
WFAA spoke with women at the clinic who have trusted us to protect their identities.
"I flew in from Texas and rented a car and drove across state lines," said one woman.
"I traveled 500 miles, eight to ten hours driving. We got a hotel just to be safe," another woman told WFAA.
The patients who have the means fly into El Paso and book a hotel. Others endure the long drive and cross the Rio Grande into Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
The patients who are coming from Dallas are traveling up to 647 miles, 759 miles from Houston, or even 842 miles if from Brownsville.
"The option of Oklahoma and Louisiana is gone. A lot of them are very angry," said Dr. Theard.
The clinic is seeing close to 250 patients or more a month.
The patients tell WFAA they're spending between $500 and $1,500 just to get to New Mexico. And that doesn't include the $700 for the exam, ultrasound, counsel and two pills Dr. Theard prescribes.
The pills are only effective under 10 weeks. Patients are given two abortion pills 24 hours apart. One cuts off nutrients to the embryo and the other induces early labor.
"I look them in the eye while I'm doing the ultrasound and I ask them, 'Is this your decision?"' Dr. Theard recalls asking during every appointment. In talking with the patients, it is clear it is a decision layered in emotional, physical and mental stress.
"I know I have to do what's best for me and my life right now," a woman told WFAA.
"Everything is just a little scary. I don't want to go to jail," said another woman.
There are often protestors out in front of the clinic, but there was only one who showed up Tuesday.
Dr. Theard, a 73-year-old physician, has heard and seen it all from critics.
"You're entitled to your opinion, but I sleep very well at night," said the doctor.
Dr. Theard started practicing when Roe v. Wade was first adopted and says he'll continue when it is no longer law of the land.
Dr. Theard tells WFAA that he offers free services to minors and active duty enlisted military seeking abortions.