Stage set for NM abor­tion clash

Op­po­nents of ban op­ti­mistic on re­peal

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN MCKAY

SANTA FE — New Mex­ico’s crim­i­nal abor­tion law is one of just a few of its kind in the coun­try.

But de­bate over whether to re­peal the 1969 statute is ex­pected to in­ten­sify at the Round­house in com­ing months, af­ter the death of U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg and a leg­isla­tive shake-up ce­mented by the gen­eral elec­tion.

A push to re­move the law from New Mex­ico’s books passed the House in 2019 but fell three votes short in the Se­nate.

Since then, five of the eight Se­nate Democrats who crossed party lines to vote against the bill lost their re­elec­tion bids in the June 2 pri­mary. A sixth Demo­cratic sen­a­tor, Car­los Cis­neros, died and has since been re­placed.

The fi­nal com­po­si­tion of the Leg­is­la­ture, of course, won’t be set un­til the Nov. 3 elec­tion. Ev­ery leg­isla­tive seat in both cham­bers is on the bal­lot.

The makeup of the Supreme Court could also change in the com­ing months if the U.S. Se­nate con­firms an ap­pointee by Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Against that back­drop, Demo­cratic Rep. Joanne Fer­rary of

Las Cruces and Sen. Linda Lopez of Al­bu­querque said Wed­nes­day that they ex­pect to push again next year to re­peal New Mex­ico’s anti-abor­tion law.

“Now more than ever,” Fer­rary said in an in­ter­view, “we need to make sure we can pro­vide this health care not only for New Mex­ico women, but across the coun­try.”

State Rep. David Gallegos, a Eu­nice Repub­li­can who is run­ning un­op­posed for the Se­nate, said he hopes the gen­eral elec­tion adds some bal­ance to the Leg­is­la­ture, where Democrats hold ma­jori­ties ex­ceed­ing 60% in each cham­ber. Re­gard­less, he said, he and oth­ers are pre­pared to de­fend New Mex­ico’s abor­tion law.

“To me, it just comes down to be­ing prin­ci­pled,” Gallegos said. “In all re­al­ity, we seem to fo­cus more on the value of a min­i­mum wage in­crease than we do the value of life.”

Roe v. Wade

The state law at is­sue makes it a crime for an abor­tion provider to end a woman’s preg­nancy, ex­cept in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, such as rape or grave threats to the woman’s health. The pro­ce­dure, un­der the law, is also lim­ited to hos­pi­tals and must be ap­proved in writ­ing by a hos­pi­tal board.

The statute, how­ever, is largely un­en­force­able be­cause the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion es­tab­lished a na­tion­wide right to abor­tion in 1973.

El­lie Rush­forth, re­pro­duc­tive rights coun­sel at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of New Mex­ico, said she be­lieves the state law also vi­o­lates the New Mex­ico Con­sti­tu­tion, which guar­an­tees equal le­gal rights re­gard­less of sex.

But that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily stop an anti-abor­tion prose­cu­tor from pur­su­ing charges, she said, es­pe­cially if the Supreme Court al­ters the le­gal land­scape.

“Hav­ing this old abor­tion ban lin­ger­ing on our books,” Rush­forth said, “could very well come back to haunt us. … We can­not af­ford to risk abor­tion ac­cess even for one day.”

Seven other states, she said, have an abor­tion law like New Mex­ico’s on the books. Re­peal­ing it, Rush­forth said, wouldn’t af­fect the com­pre­hen­sive reg­u­la­tions that al­ready gov­ern abor­tion and other health care pro­ce­dures.

Elisa Martinez, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New Mex­ico Al­liance for Life, said the Supreme Court va­cancy “has tremen­dous im­pli­ca­tions for the na­tion and for our state. … The right to abor­tion is nowhere in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

New Mex­ico, she said, has so few other abor­tion laws that it’s a des­ti­na­tion for women seek­ing late-term abor­tions.

The Nov. 3 elec­tion pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity, Martinez said, to elect leg­is­la­tors who want “to see com­mon­sense pro­tec­tions put in place for both the woman and the child.”

She added: “It’s an im­por­tant dis­cus­sion that we need to have as a state — that peo­ple want to have.”

Gov­er­nor’s pri­or­ity

Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, a Demo­crat and for­mer state health sec­re­tary, has made re­peal­ing the abor­tion law a pri­or­ity since her 2018 elec­tion.

“Re­strict­ing ac­cess to health care would have dras­tic neg­a­tive im­pacts — par­tic­u­larly for low in­come peo­ple, for com­mu­ni­ties of color and those who live in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties,” she said in a writ­ten state­ment Wed­nes­day. “The pos­si­bil­ity of the Supreme Court at some point in the fu­ture rul­ing against re­pro­duc­tive rights only un­der­scores the im­por­tance of re­mov­ing New Mex­ico’s out­dated and dis­crim­i­na­tory statu­tory lan­guage.”

Sen. Lopez — like Fer­rary, a cospon­sor of the 2019 at­tempt to re­peal the abor­tion law — said she ex­pects a more fa­vor­able out­come for the bill next year.

Lopez said she will make clear that the leg­is­la­tion is fo­cused only on re­mov­ing the po­ten­tial for pros­e­cu­tion of a health care provider, not an at­tempt to tackle other is­sues re­lated to abor­tion.

“It’s sim­ple and straight­for­ward,” she said.

In 2019, the leg­is­la­tion, House Bill 51, passed the House 40-29 but was de­feated 24-18 in the Se­nate.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a Demo­crat who serves as pres­i­dent of the Se­nate, said he was ready to break a tie and cast the de­cid­ing vote to sup­port the bill if it came to that. He called it an out­dated and ar­chaic law.

At least six of the eight Democrats who crossed party lines won’t be part of the Se­nate next year. But whether they are re­placed by law­mak­ers who sup­port the bill won’t be de­cided un­til Nov. 3.

Gallegos, the Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive who is set to join the Se­nate, said it’s a con­cern that Demo­cratic vot­ers “got rid of those mod­er­ates” but that he and oth­ers will be pre­pared to make their case re­gard­less of how the gen­eral elec­tion turns out.

“I can’t see that they can be any more ra­bid than they have been in the last few years any­way,” Gallegos said.

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