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Senate panel rejects late-term abortion bans

SANTA FE — The Senate Public Affairs Committee tonight rejected two bills that would have banned late-term abortions in New Mexico.

The bills were killed on a 5-4 vote along party lines, with Democrats voting to table them and Republicans opposed.

The action almost certainly means no late-term abortion ban would pass the Legislature in the current session, which concludes Feb. 18.

Sponsored by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, Senate Bills 242 and 243 would have banned abortions at or after 20 weeks if the fetus were determined to be viable, unless the woman’s life were in danger.

Senate Bill 242 provided an exemption from the ban for women whose pregnancies resulted from sexual abuse, rape or incest. The other bill did not contain that exemption.

Sharer said the legislation “draws a simple line” already drawn by 43 other states and most countries throughout the world.

“The number of late-term abortions is very small,” he said. But he contended there are hundreds performed every year in Albuquerque, calling that “a tragedy.”

“This is a life and death issue that the state of New Mexico has the full authority to address on behalf of innocent unborn lives,” said Elisa Martinez, executive director of New Mexico Alliance for Life.

The legislation also had the support of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. Executive Director Allen Sanchez called it “a matter of the dignity of the human being.”

But the bill’s opponents said the extremely difficult decision to have late-term abortions belongs to women, in consultation with their doctors.

“I want every New Mexico woman to be able to make the decisions without harassment, judgment — and certainly without the government interfering in those decisions,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, during a long and emotional hearing on the legislation.

“I will not keep women from doing what they need to do medically,”said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.