NM Democrats weigh law protecting abortion rights - Albuquerque Journal

NM Democrats weigh law protecting abortion rights

Democratic state Sens. Linda Lopez, center, and Mimi Stewart, both of Albuquerque, listen to comments during a 2019 legislative hearing. They are evaluating what legislation is needed in New Mexico after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade . (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE – Just last year, New Mexico lawmakers repealed a state law making it a crime to end a pregnancy.

But in the wake of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent, Democratic legislative leaders say they are now evaluating whether the state should enshrine abortion rights directly in state law, expand protections for health care providers or take other steps to help women – perhaps from out of state – who seek an abortion in New Mexico.

“There’s a lot of anger about what’s happening – to women in particular,” Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said. “I think you’re going to see that play out in the legislative session.”

The ruling could also push the abortion debate to the forefront of New Mexico’s gubernatorial campaign. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking reelection, opposes limits on abortion rights.

In contrast, Republican Mark Ronchetti said Friday in his most detailed comments on the issue to date that he would support legislation permitting abortion only in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, and in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.

For now, legislators say, the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday isn’t expected to curtail abortion rights in New Mexico.

State legislators last year – following the election defeat of some anti-abortion Democrats – repealed the state’s 1969 abortion ban, which made it a crime to end a pregnancy except in narrow circumstances, such as rape. It had been unenforceable because of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

“The ruling by the Supreme Court doesn’t change what we can provide here in the state of New Mexico,” Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said Friday.

But “we are, of course, more than willing to work with our sisters from other states in this country to see what we can do to support the choices they’re having to make,” Lopez added.

Some discussion, legislators say, has centered on whether lawmakers should enact legislation intended to protect women from out of state who travel to New Mexico for the procedure.

Roughly 1,700 patients from Texas have traveled to New Mexico for abortion services since a law restricting abortion was enacted in that state in September 2021, according to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

“In New Mexico, our hearts, our clinics and our communities will remain open to those coming here for the care they want and need,” said state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla.

Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, said “everything is on the table to protect reproductive freedom” in New Mexico, but that a thoughtful approach is needed.

“I don’t know that we necessarily need to codify Roe,” she said, “both because the old statute was removed and also because of existing case law in New Mexico that protects access to abortion care.”

“That said, I do think there is other legislation related to reproductive health care that needs to be enacted – such as laws addressing barriers to access to reproductive health care, and providing protections for health center providers and workers,” Duhigg added.

Republicans – a minority in both legislative chambers – said it’s a shame the Supreme Court decision won’t change much in New Mexico.

The state, they noted, doesn’t have the restrictions found in some states, such as parental notification mandates and waiting periods.

“Tragically, in New Mexico, Planned Parenthood and radical progressives have worked overtime to ensure that nothing will change in response to this historic decision,” said Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte.

In addition, Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said anti-abortion advocates have much work to do in New Mexico.

“While around half the states in the nation plan to tighten up laws around abortion, New Mexico will remain one of the only places in the world that provides abortion of healthy babies up to birth,” Dow said.

Campaign issue

The Supreme Court ruling could make abortion a prominent issue in both New Mexico’s gubernatorial race and other campaigns.

All 70 seats in the state House are on the ballot in November, as are statewide offices including attorney general.

Ronchetti, the Republican nominee for governor, said it’s time for a “measured dialogue” on abortion.

“I believe permitting abortion up to 15 weeks and in cases involving rape, incest, and when a mother’s life is at risk is a very reasonable position that most in New Mexico will support regardless of party affiliation,” he said in a statement. “This will end the barbaric practice of late-term abortions. I will also strongly support policies that provide support to expectant mothers and their unborn children.”

Lujan Grisham, by contrast, described the court ruling as part of a “war on women.”

She has opposed limiting abortion rights and signed last year’s legislation, Senate Bill 10, repealing the criminal abortion statute.

“As the laws in this country change before our very eyes,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement, “I will continue to fight for the right to a safe, legal abortion in New Mexico and stand as a brick wall against those who seek to punish women and their doctors just because they seek the care they need and deserve.”

Legislative outlook

High-ranking Democratic legislators said they are evaluating their legislative options and hadn’t yet settled on what proposals to introduce.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who called Friday a “sad day” for the nation, expressed caution about enshrining abortion protections in state statute.

“There needs to be a lot of thought about whether it’s needed and what might be the unintended consequences,” said Egolf, who is not seeking reelection this year.

The next regular session is set for January – after the Nov. 8 election may reshape the political composition of the Legislature.

Democrats hold large majorities in each chamber. The last time Republicans controlled part of the Legislature was in 2016, when the GOP held a narrow edge in the House.

The Republican Party of New Mexico said the new court decision makes it all the more important for voters this year to elect anti-abortion candidates.

“This is especially vital here in New Mexico where we have such radical abortion laws,” the state GOP said in a written statement.

Top Democratic lawmakers, in turn, called on New Mexico voters to mobilize in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“This is not the time to sit on the sidelines,” said House Majority Leader Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque.

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