Senate passes bill to repeal NM’s abortion ban

Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, refuses to answer questions during debate of a bill she sponsored to repeal an old law that makes abortions illegal. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Different Senate, different vote.

Two years after voting down a bill that would have repealed a long-dormant New Mexico abortion ban, a new-look state Senate voted 25-17 on Thursday to approve similar legislation.

The vote, which occurred after more than three hours of emotional and sometimes testy debate, sets the stage for the Democratic-controlled House to give final approval to the measure by as soon as next week and send it on to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“We can hold our own moral values about abortion and still trust a pregnant woman and her family to make that decision for herself,” said Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the lead sponsor of the bill.

The final vote on the measure, Senate Bill 10, came after multiple proposed Republican amendments were rejected, including attempts to ban abortions after either 20 or 35 weeks of pregnancy.

Republicans were also angered that Lopez, in a break with typical Senate decorum, refused to answer questions during the floor debate.

And they argued that repealing the 1969 abortion law that criminalizes abortion in most cases would cause an exodus of New Mexico health care workers, as the targeted statute also includes a “conscience clause” that allows doctors and nurses to decline to participate in an abortion procedure if they have moral objections.

Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, argues for an amendment to a bill to repeal an old law that makes abortions illegal. The bill passed out of the Senate and goes to the House Thursday February 11, 2021. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“It leaves no choice to our doctors,” said Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, who described it as a “no-choice” bill.

But majority Democrats pushed back against the claim, pointing out other medical conscience protections in state and federal law would remain in place if the 1969 law is repealed.

“We shouldn’t be doing scare tactics,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who described the GOP claims as political statements not backed up by law.

The 25-17 vote on the bill fell largely along party lines, with just two Democrats – Sens. George Muñoz of Gallup and Pete Campos of Las Vegas – joining with Republicans in voting against the legislation.

Both Muñoz and Campos also voted against the 2019 abortion repeal legislation, but six other Democrats who voted against that year’s bill are no longer in the Senate, with five of them having been defeated in the June 2020 primary election.

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

But changes to the Supreme Court’s makeup during the tenure of former President Donald Trump have raised questions about whether that ruling might be partially or fully overturned in the coming months.

Were it to be enforceable, the state’s statute would make it a crime to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest.

Lujan Grisham, who said last year New Mexico’s abortion ban would be “gone” as soon as there were enough votes in the Senate to pass a repeal measure, said in a Thursday statement the legislation affirms a woman’s autonomy over her own body.

“I thank and applaud the women senators who spoke in such personal terms in their supportive testimony today,” the governor said. “This was a moment for common-sense leadership and I am grateful to the lawmakers and advocates who have met that moment.”

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, argues on the Senate floor Thursday in favor of a proposed amendment to a Democratic-backed bill repealing a long-dormant abortion ban. The amendment was rejected and the bill eventually passed on a 25-17 vote after more than three hours of debate. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

However, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce described it as a “sad day” for New Mexico, describing the legislation as immoral.

“This is a shameful bill that gives the abortion industry carte blanche and endangers the lives and health of girls and women in our state,” Pearce said in a statement.

New Mexico is currently 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.

Several female senators shared personal stories during Thursday’s debate, with first-term Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, at one point telling colleagues about a possible recurrence of cancer that could require surgical intervention.

Even before the final Senate vote was taken, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters that he expects to refer the abortion bill to a House committee quickly.

It could be up for final action in the House by late next week, he said, depending on other scheduling considerations.

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.

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