House endorses proposal intended to strengthen abortion rights in New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal

House endorses proposal intended to strengthen abortion rights in New Mexico

State Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, prepares for the start of the floor session on Tuesday. She presented legislation on abortion rights. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Legislation adopted by the state House late Tuesday would prohibit cities and public schools in New Mexico from interfering with a person’s access to abortion or gender-affirming care.

The proposal, House Bill 7, now advances to the Senate, following an intense, three-hour debate that touched on the rights of teachers, parents and children.

Democratic lawmakers described the bill as a way to prohibit discrimination and protect access to reproductive health and gender-affirming care throughout New Mexico. It comes after a series of conservative cities and counties in the eastern part of the state passed anti-abortion ordinances.

“This bill would mean that patients can access the life-saving care they need when and where they need it,” House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, said.

Republicans fiercely opposed the proposal.

House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, questioned the Democratic sponsors in detail about the potential impact of language prohibiting, say, a teacher from “directly or indirectly” interfering with access to reproductive health care or gender-affirming care.

He characterized it as a vague, unfamiliar legal standard that would leave educators without a clear understanding of what information they could share with a parent.

“Sadly,” Lane said, “I think we’re unnecessarily pitting parents against their child when it comes to important, vital medical decisions.”

The proposal won approval on an 38-31 to vote. Six Democrats joined all 25 Republicans against the bill.

It heads next to the Senate, where Democrats also hold a majority, though abortion rights have sometimes faced more skepticism.

State Rep. Linda Serrato, a Santa Fe Democrat who presented the bill Tuesday and defended it throughout a debate that stretched beyond three hours, said the legislation wouldn’t change parental notification procedures or medical standards for the treatment of transgender individuals.

Teachers and public employees, she said, “are not required to take affirmative action — additional steps — they wouldn’t otherwise.”

The legislation covers public bodies, including cities, counties, school districts and public universities.

They would be prohibited from discriminating against anyone for using — or refusing to use — reproductive health care or gender-affirming care.

Public bodies and their employees also would be banned from denying, restricting or interfering — either directly or indirectly — with access to such care.

The attorney general or a district attorney would be empowered to enforce the law, and individuals could file their own civil lawsuits seeking damages. Claims would have to be against the public body itself, not its employees.

Some of the debate was personal. Lawmakers shared stories about pregnancies and friendships with people who sought gender-affirming care.

Republicans offered several amendments, which were rejected.

“I think this is a very sad day for New Mexico,” Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad said.

State-by-state abortion debate

Debate over reproductive health care has intensified at state capitols across the country in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision ending the federal right to abortion, sending the issue to states.

Protecting abortion rights was a centerpiece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign last year.

She announced Tuesday that she is one of 20 governors establishing a multi-state network intended to strengthen abortion access.

“This historic alliance will continue to work to guarantee reproductive freedom in each of our states and to restore that right to every woman in America,” Lujan Grisham said in a written statement.

In addition to the House bill acted on Tuesday, lawmakers are also considering legislation, Senate Bill 13, that would put into law an executive order issued last year by Lujan Grisham. It would prohibit state agencies from sharing the reproductive health care information of patients or providers for an out-of-state investigation.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., expressed support for the House bill during a Tuesday speech to lawmakers, and she said during a subsequent interview the proposal comes at an important time.

“We’ve had the undermining and eroding of our basic rights at the federal level,” Stansbury said, referring in part to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year overturning the Roe v. Wade decision.

Dan Boyd of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this article.

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