After a long committee meeting and often-times emotional testimony from the public on a controversial bill to ban abortions on pregnancies of 20 or more weeks of gestation, lawmakers on the Senate Public Affairs Committee quickly tabled the legislation on a party line vote. Neither the committee chair nor vice chair—Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino or Bill O’Neill, both Democrats from Albuquerque—nor any of the three Republican members actually spoke about the issue during debate. And the three remaining Democrats—Sens. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces—kept their comments on the issue succinct before joining their other Democratic colleagues to table the bill.
For the second time this legislative session, a Republican broke ranks with his party to vote down legislation aimed at further regulating abortion procedures in the state. Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, voted against a House memorial asking three state agencies to coordinate reporting when infants who show signs of life outside of the womb after abortion procedures. “If you were bringing a bill banning late-term abortion, I’d be with this,” Smith told sponsor and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, in committee. “But this is concerning.”
Smith joined three Democrats Monday afternoon in the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee in tabling Montoya’s memorial on a 4-3 vote. During debate, Montoya mentioned how the University of New Mexico, which provides abortions during the first and second trimester of pregnancies, likely is not practicing “the particular abortion procedure that is producing born alive infants.”
Smith responded that the Legislature isn’t the correct body to “go after a potential violator” if it didn’t know who the violator was or if a violation was happening.
Rhetoric on abortion heated up in 2015 after anti-abortion advocates leaked videos of Planned Parenthood officials and Robert Dear violently attacked a clinic in Colorado Springs. But whether the emotional debate comes to bills at the legislative session later this month and next isn’t yet known. Measures impacting abortion rights face odds this year because the upcoming session is focused on the state budget. Gov. Susana Martinez has the sole authority to allow any legislation not related to the state budget to be heard this year. So far, only state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has confirmed publicly that she asked Martinez to allow the Legislature to hear a bill that would ban abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Two bills seeking limits on abortion are poised for debate in New Mexico’s House of Representatives. A look back at weeks of charged discussions on the issue indicates that under a superficial veneer of two opposing “sides” lies a spectrum of experiences and beliefs, all of which could all play into the ultimate fate of the proposals. Anti-abortion legislation has been proposed session after session in Santa Fe since the passage of Roe v. Wade, but this year, the momentum feels markedly different. After a new Republican majority took the helm in the House for the first time since the 1950s, anti-abortion activists vowed to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire. Conservative legislators have expressed confidence they can squeeze votes they need from the Democratic-controlled Senate to send abortion restrictions to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for her signature.