County commissioners voted down the proposed ordinance by a 3-2 vote Wednesday evening. The measure would have banned abortions in the unincorporated parts of the county after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The action comes about two months after Albuquerque voters rejected a similar proposal.
Valencia County Commissioner Lawrence Romero, who sponsored the ordinance, was supported by fellow Republican Commissioner Jhonathan Aragon in voting yes, while commissioners Alicia Aguilar, Charles Eaton and Mary Andersen voted in opposition.
Chairman Eaton said he had a hard time supporting a measure that was “largely symbolic,” since there are no abortion providers in the county, late-term or otherwise.
“I doubt a facility would consider coming to the unincorporated county due to the attention it would attract and the need for law enforcement. I think the municipalities would be a higher priority target,” Eaton said. “I personally don’t believe in abortion. I have weighed this issue, spoken to my family, my wife and daughters, had discussions, heated discussions.
“I don’t find myself in the position to make this decision for a woman. I don’t know the health issues discussed between her and her provider, and I am not in a position to make that decision for her.”
Saying she refused to believe anyone, anywhere would advocate for abortion, no matter what stage of gestation, Commissioner Andersen said it was a moral issue.
“We cannot address this at the government level; government cannot legislate morality,” Andersen said. “If government could make people act better, we wouldn’t have a jail full of inmates.”
She noted that there was a very real possibility of expensive litigation being brought against the county if the ordinance was passed. “The job of this commission is to act as good stewards, and I don’t believe this ordinance is in the best interest of the county,” she said.
Aguilar said that while she understood Romero’s passion about the issue, she could not support the legislation.
“If we were to have a private conversation, I can agree with you. But when I put on the hat of commissioner, I have other obligations and I have to look at the law,” Aguilar said. She read from the oath of office she and the rest of the commissioners took, swearing to uphold the laws of the state and country, “impartially discharging” their duties as commissioners.
“There are duties enumerated by statute and I believe this falls outside the scope of our authority,” she said. “This could cause litigation that will end in hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent, puts the public at risk and may expose me to personal liability.”
Romero said it was her right to vote as she wanted, but he didn’t need a lecture on what his duties were.
“I was in law enforcement for 44 years. Do you think I was terrified of lawsuits? No. I acted with probable cause and in good faith,” Romero said.
Jackie Farnsworth, a member of the Valencia County Right to Life Chapter and resident who asked Romero to sponsor the measure, said at a December public hearing on the ordinance, if a lawsuit happens, her group would raise the money to pay for a defense.
“This is not a law about a woman and her rights, it does not get between a woman and her body, her doctor, her family,” Farnsworth said. “This is about what we want our county to be like.”
When Farnsworth approached the commission in November about drafting the ordinance, it was just prior to a vote on a similar 20-week ban in the city of Albuquerque. She proposed the county ordinance as a pre-emptive strike in the anticipation that the Albuquerque ordinance would pass and late-term abortion providers in the city would relocate to nearby Valencia County.
Albuquerque voters in a Nov. 19 special election rejected the measure, with about 55 percent voting against it.
The vote followed a campaign that put Albuquerque at the center of the country’s debate over abortion.
Supporters had gathered thousands of petition signatures to force City Hall to hold an election on the issue, saying it would be the first 20-week ban enacted at the municipal level, if passed.