New Mexico Supreme Court blocks ordinances restricting access to abortion - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Supreme Court blocks ordinances restricting access to abortion

SANTA FE — The state Supreme Court on Friday blocked four city and county ordinances aimed at restricting access to abortion in eastern New Mexico from being enforced, saying the ordinances “shall have no effect until further order of the court.”

In addition to at least temporarily freezing the ordinances, the unanimous order also directed the parties to file responses and said justices might hold a hearing on the case.

The Supreme Court’s order comes in response to an emergency petition filed by state Attorney General Raúl Torrez in late January asking the court to block the ordinances and declare them void.

It also comes just over a week after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature that bars New Mexico cities, counties and other local bodies from denying or restricting access to abortion services and gender-affirming care.

The Supreme Court’s order specifically directs the parties involved in the case to address the legislation’s implications. The state’s highest court set a April 20 deadline for those responses.

In a statement, Torrez said the order “advances the fight to ensure that New Mexico remains a safe haven for women seeking reproductive health care.”

“This extraordinary writ and the legislation just passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor will make it clear that everyone in the State of New Mexico has a protected, constitutional right to make their own health-care decisions,” Torrez added. “Given the attacks we are seeing in Texas and across the country, I am proud to stand with our Legislature and the governor to continue this fight.”

Five eastern New Mexico jurisdictions — the cities of Clovis, Hobbs and Eunice and Lea and Roosevelt counties — had passed ordinances that activists call de facto abortion bans. Torrez’s petition is only against four of them, however, since Eunice passed its ordinance the same day he filed the request in court.

The ordinances say anyone wishing to operate in the jurisdictions must follow a law commonly referred to as the Comstock Act, which bans sending anything used for an abortion in the mail.

Michael Garcia, one of seven attorneys representing the jurisdictions, said Roosevelt County will respond by filing a brief, as the Supreme Court ordered.

“This is an issue that is important to a lot of people, and there is a lot of uncharted territory here, so I hesitate to speculate on specific arguments till they become clearer,” Garcia wrote in a statement. “We’ll see what the Supreme Court does in the not too distant future.”

Responses to ruling

The Supreme Court’s ruling drew quick responses from some groups, however.

New Mexico Alliance for Life Executive Director Elisa Martinez blasted the Supreme Court as a “back-up legislative arm of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.”

“In predictable fashion, the leftist judicial activists on the New Mexico Supreme Court have inserted themselves in the law-making process by issuing a stay on city and county ordinances banning certain abortions,” Martinez said in a statement.

But Eastern New Mexico Rising, a progressive group that has been fighting for abortion access, called the Supreme Court order “another victory for bodily autonomy and reproductive justice for rural New Mexicans.”

“Eastern New Mexico Rising stands with the court’s decision, and has always denounced the inhumane and illegal ordinances that the Roosevelt County Commission, Clovis City Commission/Mayor Morris in partnership with out of state lobbyists, have attempted to force on our communities,” the statement reads. “Reproductive justice for the people is being served.”

However Roosevelt County Commissioner Rodney Savage — who introduced the ordinance but stressed that he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the commission — pointed out that their attorney’s response to Torrez’s petition did not oppose the stay while the case was pending.

“All our ordinance says is if you’re going to have an abortion clinic you’re required to abide by federal law,” Savage said. “We’re not going to prosecute any woman or chastise her or humiliate her or hassle her in any way for having an abortion … What this ordinance says is if you do have an abortion clinic in Roosevelt County you need to abide by federal law.”

Debate intensified

Abortion has long been a hot-button issue in New Mexico, but the debate has intensified in recent years.

State lawmakers in 2021 approved a bill repealing a long-dormant state abortion ban, after several moderate Senate Democrats who had previously opposed similar measures were ousted during the 2020 primary election.

The state abortion ban could have come into play after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide.

Since it was repealed, however, New Mexico currently has no legal restrictions on abortion, unlike several of its neighboring states.

During this year’s 60-day legislative session, Democratic lawmakers approved two additional bills dealing with abortion over opposition from Republicans — the legislation blocking local anti-abortion ordinances and a measure codifying Lujan Grisham’s executive order from last year that shields abortion providers and out-of-state patients who travel to New Mexico from arrest warrants and other legal liability.

While Lujan Grisham has not yet acted on the latter bill, she expressed support for it during the session. Both new laws would take effect June 16.

Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, expressed optimism Friday that the bill barring local governments from restricting access to abortion and gender-affirming care would be upheld by the courts.

“I feel very confident about our legal ground with House Bill 7,” said Serrato, who said the law would help reduce patients’ fears and confusion about possibly violating local ordinances by seeking out reproductive health care.

Anti-abortion activists who pushed for the ordinances in eastern New Mexico have told the Journal that they expected the bill to pass and the state Supreme Court to rule the way it did and they are anticipating ultimately taking the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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