February 28, 2015

Abortion restrictions head to House floor

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stressed woman doctorTwo pieces of legislation that would place restrictions on abortions passed a House committee after hours of debate on Friday. The measures will now head to the House floor.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a ban on abortions for pregnancies at 20 weeks or more as well as a bill mandating notification of the parents of minors who seek an abortion. The controversial legislation passed on party-line votes, with Republicans voting to advance the measures and Democrats voting against them.

The bill to ban late-term abortions was sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo.

Democrats objected to much of the bill, including a provision related to religious exemptions that they said was overly broad.

“The extent and reach of this is vastly broader than what I’ve heard anyone discuss at all,” Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said.

Egolf said he feared it could mean a pharmacist with objections could deny medication to women prescribed RU-486, medication which contributes to a significant portion of abortions performed in the United States, or even the Plan B “morning-after pill” which is designed to prevent pregnancy.

Each bill was limited to 30 minutes of statements from those on each side, a change from the marathon testimony that lasted many more hours in a previous committee.

Elisa Martinez, the President of New Mexico Alliance for Life, cited statements from a Las Cruces doctor, Anthony Levatino, who appeared before Congress in support of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

“Late-term abortion is never necessary to save the life of the woman,” Martinez said.

Dr. Alan Firestone, a retired family practitioner, disagreed.

“I can remember zero late-term abortions that were referred from my practice,” he told the committee. “You’re dealing with a fairly small number to begin with. When abortions are done late-term, it’s for the health of the mother.”

Those who opposed the late-term abortion ban also noted that voters in Albuquerque rejected a similar proposal.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, D-Los Lunas, would require parents to be notified before a minor female receives an abortion.

Those in support of the bill said it would stop cycles of abuse, facilitate communication among family members and improve decision-making when it came to terminating a pregnancy.

Egolf blasted the bill, saying that even if a minor’s health was at stake, a doctor would either still need to provide parental notification, or the minor would have to go to court and receive permission from a judge to have an abortion. In response, Republicans on the panel passed an amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, that would allow a minor to have an abortion if their physical health is in danger.

After the parental notification bill passed, Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said he found the legislation ironic.

“Lawmakers were told it’s a necessity because children are not mature enough to understand the consequences of medical decisions, and the response is to send them to the judicial system,” Martinez, a lawyer, said.

“That’s just bizarre.”

Margaret Wright contributed to this report.