Court shake-up renews Democrats’ effort to legalize abortion in NM

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Rally-goers at the U.S. Capitol in January. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico is one of a few states with a law on the books making it a crime for an abortion provider to end a women’s pregnancy, except in narrow circumstances.

It’s been unenforceable, of course, for 45 years because of Roe v. Wade.

But Democratic legislators say they are renewing their efforts to repeal the law – partly because the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will allow President Donald Trump to nominate his successor.

Trump, a Republican, has vowed to put “pro-life justices on the court,” and he has said he thinks the Roe decision will be overturned.

Rescinding New Mexico’s anti-abortion law will be a priority in the next session, said New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, has pushed to repeal the New Mexico law in the past two sessions, although the bill wasn’t heard this year. In even-numbered years, the governor has authority to limit the Legislature’s agenda – a restriction that doesn’t apply in the longer sessions, held in odd years.

“Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, before Roe v. Wade,” Ferrary said, “I had friends who had to resort to having abortions that weren’t safe. … We don’t want to go back to a time when women had to risk their lives.”

New Mexico’s criminal abortion law, passed in 1969, makes it a felony for an abortion provider to end a women’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape, birth defects or grave threats to the woman’s health. The procedure is also limited to hospitals and must be approved in writing by a hospital board.

But Elisa Martinez, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for Life, said Ferrary’s proposal to repeal the law goes too far. The section of law proposed for repeal, Martinez said, includes a provision that says hospital staffers can’t be retaliated against if they refuse to participate in abortions on moral or religious grounds.

“It is unconscionable to expect individuals who believe that abortion takes a human life to participate in the taking of a human life,” Martinez said. “It also does not address the concerns that most New Mexicans have about late-term abortions, parental involvement in abortion decisions and forced taxpayer funding of abortion.”

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Anti-abortion activists rally on the National Mall in Washington earlier this year. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

She and other activists describe New Mexico as the “late-term abortion capital of the country” under the laws enforced now.

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said the Legislature should move in the opposite direction and impose new regulations on abortion, not repeal them.

“This is just reckless,” he said.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, says New Mexico doesn’t have any of the major abortion restrictions – such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions – that exist in some states.

Nevertheless, New Mexico is one of 10 states with a criminal abortion statute on the books, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Erin Armstrong, a reproductive rights attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, said the state should continue to recognize the “right of women to make these personal health care decisions in consultation with their families, their faith and their medical providers. To take a step back, we know, would just be out of step with New Mexican values.”

Without repealing the criminal abortion law, Armstrong said, “whether it comes back to life in the future will depend entirely on how the Supreme Court were to rule on the issue. The Supreme Court certainly could overturn Roe v. Wade in its entirety, or they could issue a decision that chips away at it.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez didn’t add Ferrary’s bill to the agenda of the legislative session earlier this year. But Martinez’s term ends at the end of the year.

The two candidates seeking to replace her are divided on the issue.

In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic nominee for governor, said she supports “efforts to repeal New Mexico’s currently unenforceable and archaic laws that criminalize abortion and do not reflect our New Mexican values.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee, is on the other side.

“Unlike his opponent, Steve Pearce believes all life should be cherished and respected,” campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan said in a written statement. “He stands committed to defending those who can’t defend themselves.”

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