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Senate tables two bills relating to abortion

SANTA FE – A New Mexico Senate panel Sunday tabled two bills, one banning late-term abortions and one requiring that parents be notified at least 48 hours before a minor ends a pregnancy.

The Public Affairs Committee’s 5-3 vote along party lines – with Democrats voting in the majority – blocked the bills that have generated hours of intense testimony and debate from moving forward.

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives approved both bills earlier this month, sending them to the Senate, where Democrats still have a majority.

Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, said she was disappointed that her late-term abortion bill would not advance.

“At the end of the day we’re talking about a viable human being that can live outside the woman’s (womb) with or without life support,” she said.

Her bill prohibited ending a pregnancy after five months of gestation and if the doctor determines the fetus is viable.

More than 200 people packed a hearing room Sunday to voice their sentiments on either side of the issue.

The committee made its decision during four hours of sometimes emotional testimony in which at least two panelists spoke while fighting back tears and the body heard from more than 40 speakers, including members of the House.

Those in favor said the bills promoted women’s health and parental rights, urging senators to not look at them through the prism of party politics.

Supporters said a late-term ban was designed to bring New Mexico in line with 42 other states that prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy.

“This bill is a reasonable approach to preserve life in our society,” Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said in casting his vote against tabling the late-term abortion measure.

Abortion-rights advocates countered that women need safe access to abortions, not government interference, labeling the bill “offensive.”

“This is the hardest decision that women will make,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, adding that she lost two babies at 26 weeks, boys without lungs whom she had to bury.

“I am kind of ashamed of what we’re talking about today,” she continued, adding that the conversation should be about taking care of babies that are born. “Instead we want to look at imposing restrictions on a very small number of women.”

It was the second time in less than a week that the Public Affairs Committee effectively stopped House-approved legislation on hot-button issues from advancing.

The panel also voted along party lines to table a right-to-work bill.

“What’s very obvious is that partisan politics is capturing the day,” said Allen Sanchez, spokesman for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The same reasons why we came to repeal the death penalty is why we came today: a consistent ethic of life.”

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, said he never intended for his parental notification bill to force a family conversation, alluding to what some speakers said the bill was trying to legislate.

“What we wanted to say with this bill to the parents was that they matter,” he said.

Both bills included exceptions in cases of rape, incest, sexual abuse and when the woman’s life is in danger.

Under both proposals, a physician would face a civil penalty of at least $5,000 and his or her license would be taken away for at least a year.