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Two abortion bills unveiled at Capitol

SANTA FE – Two abortion-related bills were unveiled at the Roundhouse on Friday, setting the stage for renewed debate on a politically thorny issue.

One of the measures calls for a ban on late-term abortions except in certain cases, but would be less stringent than a similar proposal that Albuquerque voters rejected in a 2013 city election.

“This is common-sense legislation that protects the life of the child after five months pregnancy,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, who is sponsoring the legislation.

The other bill would require that pregnant teenagers under age 18 notify their parent, or guardian, at least 48 hours before having an abortion.

Although a few Democratic lawmakers indicated their support for the two abortion bills by signing onto them, others vowed to fight the measures during the 60-day legislative session that ends March 21. Both bills are expected to be formally introduced early next week.

“The decision to have an abortion later in pregnancy is one of the most private and personal decisions any family can be faced with,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “This decision belongs to a woman, her family, and her doctor. The government has no place in such a personal decision.”

“I think it’s no place for government and politics,” added Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque.

Attempts in recent years to place limits on abortions in New Mexico have been turned back in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but the political calculus could be different this year, because Republicans have a majority in the House for the first time in 60 years.

Partly due to the altered political landscape, the state’s Roman Catholic bishops have urged lawmakers to pass both a late-term abortion ban and a parental notification law.

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez indicated Friday that the Republican governor would support the measures, if they are approved in both the House and Senate.

“As the governor has said many times, she is pro-life, which would of course include opposition to late-term abortions,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “She believes parents should be notified before a minor can have an abortion.”

Under the proposed late-term abortion ban to be introduced in the House, a doctor who performs an abortion after 20 weeks and when the fetus is viable would be subject to a civil fine and a one-year suspension of his or her medical license. Allowable exemptions would include rape, incest or sexual abuse.

The rejected Albuquerque ban differed in that it would have made an abortion performed 20 weeks or more after conception a misdemeanor crime, except in cases in which the mother’s life was at risk.

Supporters have said the proposed late-term abortion ban was initiated to target the Southwestern Women’s Options clinic in Albuquerque, one of four clinics in the country that perform third-trimester abortions.