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Valencia County asked to consider late-term abortion ban

LOS LUNAS —  A Valencia County resident would like commissioners to begin the process to enact a late-term abortion ban in the county.

Jackie Farnsworth, representing the Valencia County Right to Life Chapter, presented a multipage petition she said contained more than 1,000 signatures of county residents in support of the ban.

The discussion item for the consideration of a “pain capable unborn child protection ordinance” was placed on the agenda by Valencia County Commissioner Lawrence Romero.

Farnsworth, a Los Lunas resident, said the chapter supported the ordinance. She said the idea to request the ordinance came after a meeting among the various state chapters about what the Right To Life organization could do to advise counties in regards to abortion.

“The Albuquerque ordinance came up,” Farnsworth said.

That ordinance, if approved, would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion if the fetus is determined to be 20 weeks or older, unless the woman’s life is at risk. The ordinance does not make exceptions for cases of rape, incest or viability of the fetus. Early voting in Albuquerque has begun in Tuesday’s special election.

“Albuquerque is one of three in cities in the nation that has late-term abortions. One website says they will provide abortions at 28 weeks or later, with cause,” Farnsworth said. “You have citizens right here in Valencia County born at 25 weeks. That is viability.

“What we were concerned about is there is a huge business in Albuquerque that people fly in, get on a shuttle to the clinic, for these procedures.”

Assuming the Albuquerque ban will pass, Farnsworth said that “huge business” will be looking to relocate to the next closest place to the airport — Valencia County, to the south.

“We would like to be proactive. I don’t know what you think about it but this is not the value that Valencia County people want,” she said.

Farnsworth said there have been cases where surgeons performing procedures in the womb have witnessed fetuses “flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions.”

She said, according to neurologists, studies show pain pathways are established at 20 weeks.

In January 1973, in the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment.

The decision gave a woman a right to abortion during the entirety of the pregnancy and defined different levels of state interest for regulating abortion in the second and third trimesters.

Laura Schauer Ives, legal director of ACLU of New Mexico, said of all the courts that have reached the question of the constitutionality of 20-week bans, all have said such bans are unconstitutional.

“There have been various iterations of these bans and different problems with each one. The very basic problem the court has recognized is that in many instances, after 20 weeks, a woman and her physician can make a decision together regarding whether to terminate the pregnancy,” Schauer Ives said.

“A woman shouldn’t be denied basic health care or the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances because some politician disagrees with her decision.”

She continued, saying any limits on abortion must recognize “that private relation between a woman and her physician, and a woman’s privacy interest between a woman and her body. These ordinances do not.”

Schauer Ives said it is around 20 weeks when physicians get the results of testing for major fetal abnormalities.

“These kinds of abortions are rare. And on those rare occasions, families should get compassion and privacy, not government interference,” she said.

The ordinance, if approved, would only be effective in the unincorporated parts of Valencia County, exempting the municipalities. Under state statute, violation of a county ordinance is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $300 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

To continue with Farnsworth’s request, county attorney’s must draft an ordinance. It would then be placed on an agenda for approval to publish the title of the ordinance for two consecutive weeks.

After those two weeks, county attorney Adren Nance said the ordinance would be brought back before the commissioners for a public hearing. Once commissioners hear from residents at the hearing, the ordinance can be changed.

After the public hearing, the ordinance would be voted on by the five commissioners. If it is approved, it becomes law 30 days later.

Unlike the proposed ordinance in Albuquerque, an ordinance considered by the county won’t go out for a public vote, Nance said.

“In New Mexico, counties do not have a referendum process. Basically, the only way for an ordinance to happen is for this board to adopt one,” he said.

Farnsworth said the people who signed the petition were told there wouldn’t be a public vote.

Commissioner Romero asked the attorneys to move forward and draft a late-term abortion ordinance.

Valencia County does not have an abortion provider, late-term or otherwise.

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