February 6, 2019

House passes bill repealing anti-abortion law

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Laura Paskus

The abortion debate is headed to the state Senate.

If passed, House Bill 51 would repeal a 1969 state statute which made both receiving and performing abortions a fourth-degree felony in most cases. The effort passed the state House on a 40-29 vote Wednesday night.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would repeal the 1969 law, which is not enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Ferrary emphasized that providing long-term contraception is the best solution for reducing the “heart-wrenching decision” of abortion. She also said that since the bill repeals a law that cannot be enforced, nothing would change in the state.

But Republicans argued repealing the 1969 statute would not protect doctors who refuse to perform abortions.

Debate lasted the full three hours allowed by House rules before the chamber voted on the bill.

Federal and state laws already give healthcare providers and institutions the option to not perform end of life services or abortions under certain circumstances.

Abortion was first made illegal in New Mexico in 1907, but legislators amended the law in 1969. The bill, which only allowed abortion in certain circumstances—such as rape and incest—was considered to be liberal at the time, according to former appellate judge and law professor Jonathan Sutin’s 1970 review of the bill.

Ferrary said she is concerned the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, will overturn Roe vs. Wade, reversing the constitutional protection allowing women access to abortion. New Mexico is among states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, where restrictions on abortion have been curbed or legislatures are in the midst of changing their laws because of similar concerns.

Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, referred to the state of New York’s recent repeal of its law, which allows abortion “up to the day of birth.” In January, New York became the latest state to legalize abortion with no time restrictions.

“I’m having trouble justifying your comments when late-term abortion is being performed at Southwest Women’s Center for any reason,” Montoya said to Ferrary, referring to an Albuquerque clinic which performs abortion in the third trimester.

Only three other clinics in the nation perform third-trimester abortions—which make up less than two percent of all abortions.

Ferray responded that women have the right to all options in their personal healthcare. She added that “politicians are not medical experts”

“Late-term abortion” is often used by politicians and activists who oppose abortion, but is not a medical term.

Democrats hold a smaller majority in the Senate than in the House, which may lead to a closer vote, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham previously pledged to sign the bill into law.