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Activists keep abortion statute in public eye

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – On the surface, there’s been little debate and no formal action on abortion-related issues during this year’s 30-day legislative session.

But the uneasy stalemate could be broken after this year’s election cycle, and both abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates have traveled to the Roundhouse to rally support for their respective positions – and keep the pressure on lawmakers.

Then there’s Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who recently told attendees at a Planned Parenthood event that a long-dormant state abortion ban will be “gone” as soon as there are enough votes in the Senate to pass a repeal measure.

“The second we have the votes in the Senate, that antiquated, absolutely outrageous law is gone,” Lujan Grisham said, according to a video clip of the event.

A bill during last year’s session that would have repealed the state’s 1969 anti-abortion law passed the House but failed in the Senate 18-24, with eight Democrats joining the chamber’s Republican members to block the bill from advancing.

Rumors have been circulating at the Roundhouse that a similar bill could be brought forward before this year’s 30-day session ends next week, but a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said there’s no truth to them.

But abortion opponents have mobilized just in case, and say they’re bracing for the proposal to be brought back either during a special legislative session that Lujan Grisham would have to call or during next year’s 60-day session.

“We expect the governor to bring back that bill, and we’re surprised she didn’t do it this year,” said Vince Torres, the president and executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico.

He said he suspects that’s because there are still not enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass such a measure.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett did not directly respond to a question about whether the governor has been talking to individual senators about the issue but said Lujan Grisham has made it clear she views protecting access to reproductive health care as an “absolute priority.”

Roe v. Wade

New Mexico’s abortion law is largely unenforceable now because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

But the Supreme Court plans to take up a high-stakes abortion case next month, which could change the legal landscape and prompt a new skirmish at the Roundhouse.

Those on both sides of the abortion debate are well aware of the potential implications.

At least 200 abortion rights advocates held a noisy rally in the Roundhouse on Wednesday and lobbied Democratic lawmakers to support the proposed repeal effort.

Sandy Martinez of Española said she made the trip with her two daughters in mind to show support for women’s reproductive rights, including abortion.

“I feel it’s important to keep it safe and keep it legal,” she told the Journal.

On Friday, just two days later, roughly 60 abortion opponents gathered in the Capitol rotunda to hear speeches from Republican lawmakers and others.

Several GOP legislators shared personal stories, including Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, who talked about her decision not to have an abortion after getting pregnant as a newly-married 19-year-old.

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, urged abortion opponents not to show signs displaying babies, saying that could alienate moderate Democrats.

“We’re making great strides,” Montoya said. “Let’s not take a step back when we’ve got momentum with us.”

Montoya proposed three abortion-related bills this year, including one requiring parental notification before a minor could have an abortion, but they were not added to the session’s agenda by Lujan Grisham and, therefore, have not been brought up for debate.

Few restrictions

New Mexico is among the states with the fewest abortion restrictions in the nation.

It’s also one of seven that permit abortions at any stage in a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group that works to advance reproductive health, and published reports.

Anti-abortion crusaders say that’s made New Mexico into an abortion magnet, as nearly 20% of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed in New Mexico in 2014 involved women from out of state, according to state Department of Health data.

However, the state’s abortion statute – were it to be enforceable – makes it a crime to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest.

It also requires that a committee of licensed physicians certify those circumstances before an abortion takes place.

In an election year in which all 112 legislative seats will be up for election, those on both sides say abortion is likely to play a role in hotly contested races.

“We fully expect that to be one of the top issues in this year’s election cycle,” Torres said.

For her part, Lujan Grisham suggested she’ll also remain vocal on the issue.

“We’re going to make sure New Mexico voters know what’s at stake and what we really need in a policy-making body to protect our families,” the governor said at the recent Planned Parenthood event.

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