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NM bishops will push to end late-term abortions

New Mexico’s three Roman Catholic bishops hope Republican control in the state House of Representatives will help them achieve a ban on late-term abortions that Albuquerque voters rejected in a 2013 city election.

Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the new Republican majority in the House provides the first “window of opportunity” in years to end late-term abortions in the state.

“For years (Republicans) have made the claim that if they could take the House, they could get pro-life legislation on the governor’s desk,” Sánchez said. “We see pro-lifers, both Republicans and Democrats, wanting to collect on the promise.”

The bishops’ legislative priorities this year also call for legislation that would require parental notification for a minor child seeking an abortion.

Jerome Anaya, center, joins hundreds of anti-abortion protesters in a rally Wednesday at the state Capitol led by Archbishop Michael Sheehan. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Jerome Anaya, center, joins hundreds of anti-abortion protesters in a rally Wednesday at the state Capitol led by Archbishop Michael Sheehan. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

A ban on late-term abortions would effectively target the Southwestern Women’s Options clinic in Albuquerque, which is one of four clinics in the nation and the only one in New Mexico that performs third-trimester abortions, or those after 27 weeks of pregnancy.

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Ann Piper, president of NARAL — Pro-Choice New Mexico, said a ban on late-term abortion would require support in both the House and the Senate, which historically has rejected anti-abortion legislation.

Piper also said late-term abortions are rare and typically result from difficult medical decisions. Late-term abortion “is a very rare and painful decision that should be left to the families and doctors.”

In November 2013, 55 percent of participating city voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have made Albuquerque the first city in the nation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

No bills had been filed on Thursday for the anti-abortion move, but Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said he expects that both bills will be filed next week. Sharer said he was not certain whether he or another legislator would sponsor the bills.

Sharer said supporters of the ban are debating whether the legislation should prohibit abortions after 24 weeks or 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan did not respond Thursday to requests to the archdioceses for an interview.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, second from right, enters the Capitol to lead an anti-abortion rally Wednesday. There is renewed hope this year to ban late-term abortions. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, second from right, enters the Capitol to lead an anti-abortion rally Wednesday. There is renewed hope this year to ban late-term abortions. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Sheehan led an anti-abortion rally at the Capitol on Wednesday after he and several hundred people marched from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis to mark the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

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In past years, the bishops did not advocate legislation to restrict abortions because Democratic control in the House assured defeat, Sánchez said.

This year, Sánchez said, he anticipates that at least 41 of the state’s 70 representatives would support anti-abortion legislation. Democrats retain a majority in the Senate, and anti-abortion bills have stumbled in committees there before.

Sharer agreed Republican control of the House increases the likelihood that anti-abortion legislation will pass this year. But the Senate committee process remains a stumbling block, he said.

“The reality is, if it ever makes it to the entire Senate, I think it passes 30-12 – but the committee system stalls it,” Sharer said of a late-term abortion ban.

“There’s plenty of support for it on the (Senate) floor.”

The Senate can bypass the committee process using a tactic called “blasting,” which allows a senator to call for a bill to be removed from a committee for a full vote of the Senate on the floor.

Blasting “is a hard road to go down,” he said. The strategy has been used on rare occasions to force a Senate vote on anti-abortion legislation, he said.

“What has happened in the past is that (legislation) was blasted out of the Senate and sent to the House to die,” he said.

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