Governor plans to expand abortion access - Albuquerque Journal

Governor plans to expand abortion access

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a June rally in Albuquerque’s Old Town held in opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. The Democratic governor on Wednesday issued an executive order pledging state resources to expand access to abortion services in New Mexico. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham moved Wednesday to buttress access to abortions in New Mexico, signing an executive order that pledges $10 million to build a state-funded clinic providing abortion and other services in Doña Ana County.

The governor’s executive order also directs the state Department of Health to marshal state resources to expand access to reproductive health – including abortion – in rural parts of the state and study whether medication that ends pregnancies can be provided in public health clinics.

“This is a state that will stand against any attempts to remove or eviscerate women’s constitutional rights,” Lujan Grisham said during a remote briefing with reporters, legislators and members of the state’s Commission on the Status of Women.

The move comes as New Mexico has seen an influx of patients from Texas and other states seeking abortion services – and with just over two months until Election Day.

The Democratic governor is locked in a hard-hitting reelection campaign against Republican Mark Ronchetti and abortion has emerged as a key issue in the race since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Lujan Grisham already issued a previous executive order aimed at shielding health care professionals targeted by lawsuits from losing their licenses or being disciplined for providing abortion services.

The June order also asserts the state will not comply with abortion-related arrest warrants or extradition requests from other states.

Republicans have criticized the order, saying it would exacerbate health care shortages and long waiting times in New Mexico.

But Democrats say the orders, which could be undone by a future governor, are essential as neighboring states like Texas and Oklahoma have moved to ban abortion.

“Protecting those who need to access abortion care is so important,” said Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who took part in the Wednesday news conference and said she was working with other Democratic lawmakers to craft a bill complementing the executive orders for the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

While she said the bill is still in the works, it could include language intended to enshrine abortion services in state law.

Funding sources

As for Lujan Grisham’s newest executive order, the $10 million to build an abortion clinic in Doña Ana County – likely in or around Las Cruces – would come from infrastructure funding allocated by the governor.

The governor’s infrastructure funding is typically folded into a larger capital outlay bill that’s voted on by lawmakers, who also insert hundreds of their own projects into the bill. The annual bill is typically funded by general fund dollars or by bonds backed by future severance tax collections, and a new capital outlay bill will be taken up by lawmakers during the session that starts in January.

Given that background, the pledged funding could be largely contingent on the outcome of the November general election.

Ronchetti has said he is personally anti-abortion, but has said he would support as governor banning abortion after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and cases when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk.

In a Wednesday statement, Ronchetti called the governor’s latest executive order extreme and out of step with New Mexicans’ values.

“New Mexico was already the abortion capital of the United States, and now taxpayers are having to foot the bill for a clinic which will perform abortions up to the moment of birth for non-residents who come from other states around the country,” Ronchetti said.

Meanwhile, a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said Wednesday planning for a new abortion clinic in southern New Mexico could begin even before funds are officially appropriated.

Voters support abortion

A recent Journal Poll found 35% of likely general election voters believe abortion should always be legal.

The poll also found 22% of voters think abortion should be legal with some limitations, while 25% say it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger. Just 12% of voters surveyed said abortion should always be illegal.

Currently, New Mexico is among 24 states that provide abortion services since state lawmakers in 2021 passed legislation – signed by Lujan Grisham – repealing a long-dormant abortion ban.

Similar legislation had failed in the state Senate in 2019 when eight Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure. But only two Senate Democrats voted against the bill two years later, after several incumbents were ousted in the 2020 primary election.

As of 2017, there were seven facilities providing abortion services in New Mexico, according to the Guttmacher Institute. At least one new clinic, dubbed Pink House West, has recently opened in Las Cruces after relocating from Mississippi following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

But abortion rights advocates say women still face a lack of access to reproductive health care services in many parts of New Mexico.

Abortions performed in New Mexico, meanwhile, made up 0.5% of all abortions in the United States as of 2017, though that number could tick up as other states enact abortion bans.

“The goal here is build it and they will come,” Lujan Grisham said Wednesday. “And as you know, some folks are already coming.”

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