SANTA FE — Democratic legislators began moving forward Friday with a proposal that would prohibit cities and public schools in New Mexico from interfering with access to abortion or gender-affirming health care.
The measure won endorsement 7-3 from the House Health and Human Services Committee on a party-line vote — the first legislative test as the bill begins its journey at the Capitol.
A public hearing at the Capitol drew opponents who read prayers and Bible passages and supporters who offered personal testimony and said the bill would protect access to vital services.
State Rep. Linda Serrato, a Santa Fe Democrat co-sponsoring the bill, said the proposal would keep public bodies from discriminating against someone seeking reproductive health care, a matter of particular importance in rural parts of the state.
“As we know, health care in New Mexico can be hard to find, hard to reach,” Serrato said. “This bill ensures we’re not adding fear on top of that.”
The debate comes after the passage of anti-abortion ordinances in a series of communities in eastern New Mexico, prompted by last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning abortion rights at the federal level.
Jodi Hendricks, executive director of the New Mexico Family Action Movement, an advocacy group, said local government bodies should maintain the right to determine what’s best for their community. Abortion and gender-affirming care are elective procedures, she said, and access to appropriate health care is already protected.
“Life-affirming and -saving health care is available wherever you need to it to be available,” Hendricks told lawmakers.
The proposal, House Bill 7, would prohibit public bodies from discriminating based on whether a person used reproductive health care services, such abortion. It also bans denying, restricting or interfering with a person’s “ability to access or provide reproductive health care or gender-affirming health care within the medical standard of care.”
Opponents questioned how the legislation might affect, say, a school nurse.
“The wording is so broad,” Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, said. “I’ve had overwhelming response from my constituents against the bill.”
Responding to questions raised by opponents, Ellie Rushforth, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the proposal would prohibit discrimination, not require a teacher or public employee to facilitate a student’s abortion or surgery.
“What this bill does not do is create an affirmative duty to provide health care they do not already provide or they do not feel comfortable providing,” Rushforth said. “It doesn’t change medical care standards, clinical guidelines, anything of that nature.”
Abortion is already legal in New Mexico, following the 2021 repeal of a dormant anti-abortion statute.
The proposal heads next to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially its final stop before reaching the full chamber. If passed by the House, it would go to the Senate.