On a 3-2 vote, Valencia County commissioners pushed a proposed late-term abortion ordinance forward for a Dec. 11 public hearing.
The vote does not approve the ordinance, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the unincorporated areas of the county, but rather publishes the legal title and begins the countdown to a public hearing. A vote on the ordinance will most likely be scheduled for the commissioners’ Dec. 20 meeting.
County Attorney Adren Nance said unlike the city of Albuquerque, the county would not hold and pay for a special election.
The ordinance was sponsored by Commissioner Lawrence Romero, and his motion to publish was seconded by Commissioner Jhonathan Aragon.
The commissioners’ discussion didn’t debate the contents of the ordinance, but instead focused on the possible legal repercussions for the county if it is approved.
It would only apply to the unincorporated area of Valencia County – not the city of Belen, village of Los Lunas, town of Peralta, village of Bosque Farms or even the new town of Rio Communities.
Commissioner Alicia Aguilar said she received calls about the proposed ordinance. During the discussions, she told people that “They asked, ‘How many clinics are there in the county?’ ” Aguilar said. She held up her hand, forefinger and thumb forming a circle to indicate zero.
“You had also asked about the cost for enforcement,” Nance said. “There’s really no way to quantify the cost of enforcement of an ordinance. We have code enforcement department but there’s really no way to calculate that.”
The real potential cost to the ordinance is in litigation, Nance said.
“We have groups that say they will litigate this whether it’s passed here or Albuquerque or elsewhere,” he said.
Best case scenario is the county’s insurance would cover the cost of a lawsuit, leaving it on the hook for a $10,000 deductible, Nance said.
“But insurance probably won’t cover it,” the attorney said. “There’s a real potential this could cost up to tens of thousands of dollars if litigated.”
Aguilar asked if the ordinance was unconstitutional.
“As a local board, can we go there?” she asked.
County attorney Dave Pato said the commission had the legal right to impose ordinances that addressed the health, safety and welfare of residents.
Aguilar asked if New Mexico Attorney General Gary King had issued an opinion. Pato said King has taken the position that it is not enforceable and is unconstitutional.
“There certainly differences in legal opinion. We reviewed a number of cases and articles to prepare for this very discussion,” Pato said. “Some take the position that it is unconstitutional and unenforceable, while others have taken the stand that the court hasn’t taken a position on the issue.”
After the meeting, Nance said the language in the Valencia County ordinance is identical in some ways to the Albuquerque ordinance that failed Nov. 19.
Aguilar noted that since the ordinance was drafted by someone who supports the ordinance, it was important for those in opposition to come to the public hearing to testify.