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Abortion-rights bill on way to governor’s desk

Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, answers question Friday about a bill she is co-sponsoring to repeal an old law making most abortions illegal in New Mexico (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers ended a bruising, two-year debate Friday with passage of a bill repealing the state’s 1969 anti-abortion law — delivering on a longtime priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The legislation, Senate Bill 10, won approval in the House 40-30 on Friday and now goes to the governor’s desk.

Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, said passage of the bill would guarantee abortion rights, in case the U.S. Supreme Court revisits its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

“I know we can each hold our own personal beliefs about abortion and still fundamentally trust New Mexicans to make these private decisions for themselves,” Lara Cadena, a co-sponsor of the bill, said during Friday’s three-hour debate.

Speaking shortly before the vote, Lujan Grisham said she would sign the bill as soon as it reaches her desk. Decriminalizing abortion, she said, could save women’s lives.

Friday’s debate in the House was tense and sometimes emotional.

Republican Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences spoke about her own unexpected pregnancy at 19 and hearing a heartbeat during an ultrasound.

“It changed the trajectory of my life,” Dow said. My daughter “has been one of the most wonderful things I’ve done — to choose life for her.”

She and other Republicans voted against the bill.

The legislation repeals a state law — now largely unenforceable — making it a crime to end a woman’s pregnancy, except in certain circumstances, such as rape. The law on the books also says the procedure must be approved in writing by a hospital board.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and former state health secretary, has pushed for repeal of the criminal abortion law since taking office in 2019.

“This is about women who deserve the right to participate (in an abortion) when there are untenable circumstances, and to have a relationship with their provider and with their own bodies,” Lujan Grisham told reporters during a remote news briefing.

Debate over the bill has reshaped the composition of the Legislature. It emerged as a key issue in the 2020 primary election, when five Democratic senators who opposed the measure lost to challengers from the left.

House action on the bill Friday came about a week after it cleared the Senate 25-17 last week.

Conscience debate

Supporters said urgency to pass the measure intensified as conservative justices joined the Supreme Court under then-President Donald Trump, opening up the possibility of a new decision on abortion rights.

Legislative opponents focused much of their criticism on the bill’s repeal of a “conscience clause,” which states that health care providers may refuse to provide an abortion and can’t face retaliation.

But health care and hospital leaders have said passage of the bill won’t result in anyone being forced to participation in abortion. Other state and federal laws, they say, already provide conscience protections.

The state’s Uniform Health Care Decisions Act, for example, allows health care practitioners to decline to participate in any health care decision or instruction for reasons of conscience. But they have to make reasonable efforts to assist in transferring the patient to someone else who is willing to comply.

Republicans said the health care decisions act isn’t adequate protection.

“We are impacting the physicians who have no desire to be apart of this,” Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, described abortion as “horrific.”

“It’s the issue that will never go away until there’s justice,” she said.

Changing Legislature

Democrats said the bill was necessary to ensure no woman has to seek a back-alley or unsafe abortion.

“We don’t want to go back to the days when I was a teenager — when women had to take their chances,” Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, said during Friday’s debate.

Rep. Georgene Louis, an Albuquerque Democrat and member of Acoma Pueblo, said passage of the bill would be an important step for Native American and other women who have faced a history of sterilization without informed consent.

“Women in New Mexico, especially Indigenous women, have long had their health care decisions taken away from them,” Louis said.

Friday’s passage of the measure marks a reversal from the outcome just two years ago. Eight Democratic senators crossed party lines in 2019 to join all 16 Republicans to reject the bill.

Just two of those eight Democrats remain in office.

The lead Senate sponsors this year were Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Friday’s vote in the House split largely along party lines.

All Republicans voted against the bill.

One independent, Phelps Anderson of Roswell, voted in favor of the bill. He was elected as a Republican but recently changed affiliation to independent after facing criticism for a committee vote in support of abortion rights.

Six Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the bill — Anthony Allison of Fruitland, Ambrose Castellano of Las Vegas, Harry Garcia of Grants, Doreen Wonda Johnson of Church Rock, Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup and Candie Sweetser of Deming.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this article.


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