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Panel OKs late-term abortion ban

SANTA FE – A House panel on Friday approved a ban on late-term abortions after five hours of often emotional testimony and debate.

House Bill 390 cleared the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee on a vote of 4-3, with Republicans in support of it and Democrats opposed.

It goes next to the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s part of a renewed push this year by abortion opponents who are buoyed by the Republican takeover of the state House in the November elections.

The legislation would ban abortions in or after the 20th week of pregnancy.

There would be exceptions if the procedure were necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman – although doctors also would be required to take “all reasonable steps” to preserve the life and health of the fetus – or if the pregnancy resulted from sexual abuse, rape or incest.

Doctors could face at least a year’s suspension or revocation of their licenses and a $5,000 fine for performing late-term abortions.

“New Mexico is known as the late-term abortion capitol of the nation. … It’s an opportunity to speak for the unborn,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, the bill’s sponsor.

Opponents of the legislation counter that late-term abortions are rare – accounting for 1 percent of abortions nationally – and often prompted by fetal abnormalities that are discovered late in pregnancy.

The decision to have an abortion that late is difficult and deeply personal, opponents of the bill argued.

“I cannot support us legislating those decisions for women and their families,” said Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque.

Supporters disputed that late-term abortions are rare and said 42 other states have banned them.

They described the procedures as “barbaric” and said government’s job is to protect life.

“It is time that we stop these killings of these live babies,” said Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell.

Nearly 100 people testified before the committee on both sides of the issue.

Doctors talked about the wrenching decisions their patients had to make after diagnoses of fetal abnormalities and how grateful they were to be able to offer options that included late-term abortions.

Abortion opponents recounted stories of children who defied their diagnoses and thrived after birth.