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Anti-abortion advocates look to the Legislature

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On the heels of last week’s failed ballot initiative in Albuquerque to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, abortion opponents say they plan to redirect their efforts to the state Legislature in Santa Fe.

Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, however, say the question of new abortion restrictions has been asked and answered. They point to an annual debate of the abortion issue in the state Capitol for nearly 20 years, as well as the resounding rejection last week by voters in New Mexico’s largest city.

Abortion opponents say the attention the issue raised in Albuquerque warrants a closer consideration by lawmakers in Santa Fe.

“The rest of the state is a lot less liberal than the city of Albuquerque,” said Elisa Martinez, chairwoman of the Protect ABQ Women and Children group that pushed for the Albuquerque 20-week abortion ban.

“This was a political campaign where at the end of the day we were outspent 4-to-1 and the message was not fairly presented to the public,” she said. “… I think the difference (in the Legislature) is that it’s the responsibility of our leadership to look out for and enact laws on the behalf of the well-being of its citizenry.”

Anti-abortion legislation routinely introduced in the Legislature has included efforts to strengthen parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions and to establish a 24-hour waiting period before abortions with notice of risks and available financial benefits if the fetus is carried to term. A ban on abortions later than 20 weeks was introduced in 2011 but failed.

Abortion issues have typically died in committee before being debated on the House or Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the Legislature will handle the abortion debate no differently than it had before the issue was put to a vote in Albuquerque.

“I think it will go through the same process it always has. We refer (proposed legislation) to committee. The committees have hearings and they make a decision,” Sanchez said.

The failure of the proposed 20-week abortion ban in Albuquerque probably won’t sway many votes among lawmakers with a record of backing abortion rights in the Legislature.

“Albuquerque can be a barometer for the rest of the state,” Sanchez said. “I’m sure a lot of legislators will be looking at the results of what happened there” when considering any proposed abortion restrictions.

Although the 30-day legislative session is intended to chiefly deal with budget issues, other topics, including abortion, can be considered at the governor’s direction.

Martinez, who has described her position as “pro-life,” put abortion limits on the agenda during the last 30-day session, in 2012.

But Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said the governor has not determined whether abortion issues will receive a green light for debate in 2014.

“We haven’t made any final determination about other issues that would be added to the governor’s call, or made any final decisions about the all of separate and various issues that individual members would like to have messaged (directed),” Knell said in an email.

However, the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico says Martinez has committed to them that she plans to allow consideration of legislation changing parental notification rules for minors receiving an abortion.

“They said if we want it on the call, we can have it, so that has been decided by the Governor’s Office,” said Dauneen Dolce, executive director of the state Right to Life Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said allowing debate of the parental notification legislation might open the door for other abortion-related bills to be introduced, including a 20-week abortion ban similar to what Albuquerque voted down.

But whether that legislation has a better chance of passing after the Albuquerque debate depends on the policies that are proposed, Ingle said.

“I can’t really say how or what will be decided on it, or whether it’s going to get past committee until we get something down in writing and see what’s there,” Ingle said.

“There’s going to be people on both sides of the issue that say, ‘It’s our way or no way,’ ” he said. “If that’s the case, nothing may change.”