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SANTA FE – Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed an emergency petition Monday challenging a series of anti-abortion ordinances passed by communities in eastern New Mexico in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision.
In a 27-page filing, Torrez asked the state Supreme Court to strike down the ordinances, arguing they violate civil rights guaranteed by the state Constitution.
The city- and county-level measures also infringe on the state’s authority to regulate health care, Torrez said, and they attempt to create a series of local abortion bans.
“It is simply inappropriate, unlawful and unconstitutional for local governments to use their limited authority to try to create a patchwork of regulations that would deny women access to essential health care services in their community,” Torrez said Monday in a news conference in his office.
The legal challenge comes after the cities of Hobbs and Clovis, and the counties of Lea and Roosevelt passed local ordinances targeting abortion. The votes followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year ending abortion rights at the federal level and sending the issue to the states.
The local measures in New Mexico vary, but they generally aim to ban use of the mail or other interstate carriers to deliver abortion drugs, citing a federal law. The Roosevelt County ordinance also says it would be enforced by allowing individuals to file civil lawsuits seeking damages of at least $100,000.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Rodney Savage, a Republican from Portales, said Monday he believes the county ordinance is on sound legal footing.
“It’s being litigated, we have a difference of opinion, and the courts will have to decide,” he told the Journal.
Roosevelt County attorney Michael I. Garcia said the county will respond in court to the attorney general’s petition.
“In the meantime,” he said, “I prefer not to speculate about litigation while it’s in the process.”
In a written statement, Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said the ordinance in his city was thoroughly analyzed in public meetings and supported by city residents.
“The Ordinance does not ban abortions or abortion clinics in Hobbs,” he said. “I would invite anyone that has heard otherwise to read the Ordinance in detail.”
Torrez, a Democrat, contends that the city and county ordinances misinterpret a 19th-century federal law on the mail and conflict with state law regulating the practice of medicine.
Furthermore, he said, the ordinances violate the state Constitution’s guarantees to equal rights, liberty and privacy – which he said are more robust than what’s outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
“We have the ability to provide enhanced rights,” Torrez said.
Democratic state lawmakers, meanwhile, say they will pursue legislation this year that would explicitly prohibit local abortion bans or other discrimination against an individual’s right to health care related to gender.
A 60-day session began just last week and no action on abortion has been taken.
Torrez said his petition does not hinge on the outcome of state legislation. The state Supreme Court, he said, is already empowered to interpret the Constitution and evaluate the abortion ordinances.
For decades, New Mexico had an unenforceable law on the books making abortion a crime, but legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham repealed it in 2021, before last year’s Supreme Court decision.