One of several Republican proposals to restrict abortion access in New Mexico stalled Tuesday night as a Democrat-controlled panel tabled legislation centered on a requirement that abortion physicians obtain hospital admitting privileges.
Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, told the Senate Public Affairs Committee that his SB 437 was intended to ensure that women undergoing abortion procedures have “the safest accommodations for doing so.”
The bill would prohibit abortion doctors from administering a procedure unless they’ve been granted special permissions to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is being performed. Brandt said the bill’s provisions would guarantee “that the doctor gets help that’s needed during emergencies.”
Brandt said his measure “gives the woman information she needs in her medical records if there’s a complication” following an abortion procedure.
He added that SB 437 stemmed directly from the approval of a similar bill in Texas and dealt with concerns cited by proponents of another 2012 measure passed in Mississippi.
Lalita Russ, a staffer at Planned Parenthood, testified that the non-profit organization provides a range of services, including birth control and screenings for sexually transmitted infections and certain cancers. “This bill threatens all of these services, not only abortion,” said Russ.
Texas has since seen 20 abortion clinics close since its more sweeping version of Brandt’s proposal passed, while Mississippi’s last remaining facility narrowly avoided shuttering its operations after a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state’s law was unconstitutional.
Language in Brandt’s proposal states that a fetus is created at the moment of fertilization, which Democratic lawmakers criticized as having far-reaching implications beyond the legislation’s stated intent.
Brandt presented alongside his two selected expert witnesses, Tara Shaver, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group Protest ABQ, and Melanie Rhodes, an attorney.
Rhodes said the legislation is needed to “protect the dignity of women” by creating more continuity in post-abortion care and adding an additional layer of oversight to the evaluations of competency for abortion providers.
“Women should not be subjected to substandard health care just because they seek an abortion,” said Rhodes.
Shaver pointed to her own research that found in a three-year period between Nov. 2008 and Nov. 2011, two Albuquerque clinics requested emergency transport to local hospitals for 14 women who’d experienced complications related to abortion procedures.
Doctor Sandra Penn, a fellow with the American Academy of Family Practice Physicians, said during public testimony that “abortion is one of the safest procedures available to women.” She cited medical research that indicates fewer than one percent of abortions result in major complications.
“Most family physicians and internists now don’t have hospital privileges,” added Penn, saying she believed singling out abortion providers for hospital admitting requirements “is meant as a barrier to the availability of services women want and need.”
There was confusion in both the committee hearing and in the bill’s analysis documents over its broader impacts. The Fiscal Impact Report for SB 347 contains a factual error that RU-486, a medication used to induce non-surgical abortions of pregnancies up to eight weeks, is the same thing as the morning-after pill, an emergency contraceptive. The error mirrors common misconceptions about the two different medications.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said definitions in the bill could limit the availability of non-surgical abortions while Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he was concerned the same wording would also impair doctors’ ability to prescribe the morning-after pill.
Brandt responded that the administration of RU-486 wouldn’t be affected because it’s available over the counter. In fact, RU-486 does require a physician’s prescription, while the morning-after pill does not.
Correction, 3/5/15, 2:20 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the surname of attorney Melanie Rhodes as it was relayed to New Mexico Political Report by Sen. Brandt’s office. The update also removed a reference to Ms. Rhodes’ professional affiliations. Protest ABQ’s executive director Bud Shaver and the activist group Operation Rescue referred to her in articles as Melanie Hathorne, an attorney affiliated with the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, and another source corroborated these details. New Mexico Political Report made attempts to confirm these facts firsthand, but as of this update has received no response.