January 25, 2003
Fight Over Abortion Rights Looms in Legislature
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE Abortion opponents will make another run this year at legislation that perennially remains just out of reach, a parental notification bill.
"We're back at it," said Dauneen Dolce, executive director of The Right to Life Committee of New Mexico.
Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, will focus on new measures aimed at preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing abortions.
They're pushing for a public education campaign on emergency contraceptive or "morning after" pills, high-dosage birth control pills that can reduce the chance of pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
"We basically feel that women don't know enough about this," said Giovanna Rossi, state director of NARAL New Mexico, a pro-choice group.
Rossi's organization wants hospitals to be required to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. About half of the state's emergency rooms already do, they said.
Also in the mix for the 60-day session that began last week: proposed constitutional amendments that say life begins at conception or fertilization, which could jeopardize the legality of abortion.
"I'm trying to make a statement here that human life is sacred, and it's human life from the moment it starts," said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, sponsor of one of the measures.
Abortion-related legislation always causes a battle, and it will be fought this year as the nation marks the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.
Anti-abortion activists had hoped to get the parental notification measure through while Republican Gov. Gary Johnson was still in office. Johnson had signed into law a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, the first restriction on an abortion procedure in New Mexico in more than 25 years.
Johnson put the bill on the agenda of last year's 30-day session, and it easily passed the Senate. But it was bottled up in a House committee.
Now, there's a Democrat in the governor's office with a pro-choice voting record from his days as a congressman.
Abortion rights advocates will try to keep the bill from even reaching Gov. Bill Richardson's desk, although they expect he would veto it.
"We don't want it to get that far," said NARAL's Rossi.
The legislation typically requires the notification of a parent, and a 48-hour wait after that, before an unmarried girl under 18 can get an abortion.
"It's not an anti-abortion bill; it's a pro-parental rights bill, and a protection for teenage girls," Dolce said. "There's nothing in there that precludes anyone from having an abortion."
Dolce says the requirement would give parents a chance to intervene in their daughters' lives before they further harm themselves.
The bill's opponents argue that family communication, while desirable, cannot be legislated. Most girls who seek abortions already involve a parent, and the ones who don't may have good reasons not to, they say.
The legislation allows a girl who fears telling her parents to go to court privately and get a judge's go-ahead.
Dolce says that would provide protection for girls from abusive homes; opponents say that won't work.
"New Mexico is full of small, rural towns, and if you think for one second a young woman could go to court and get a bypass procedure and have her parents not find out about it, that's just not believable," Rossi said.