March 7, 2015

Abortion restrictions clear the House, headed for Senate

More than six hours of bitter debate on the House floor Friday night culminated in the approval of two bills that, if enacted, will place limitations on abortion services and potentially affect the provision of medications such as emergency contraception.

Roundhouse Rotunda

Representatives voted 42 to 26 to pass HB 390, the Late-Term Abortion Ban sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, on to the Senate. That bill would bar abortions after 20 weeks except in certain cases, such as if the pregnancy was due to rape or incest.

Another Republican-heavy margin, 39 to 28, sent HB 391, a bill from Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, to the Senate for further consideration. Baldonado’s bill requires abortion providers to notify the parent or legal guardian of any minor female seeking a procedure. It also contains a “judicial bypass option” for minors who don’t want to notify a parent/guardian.

Both the bills were drafted with the same provision that allows physicians and medical professionals to refuse based on religious or moral grounds to perform procedures or dispense medication that could result in termination of a viable pregnancy. Opponents have criticized this language as being broad enough to limit access to emergency contraception methods such as the morning-after pill.

A skirmish erupted early on when Democrats repeated a maneuver they’ve made during other floor debates this session by introducing a late-hour substitute to Rep. Herrell’s bill.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, when he introduced the replacement said it would expand and equalize contraception through individual and group insurance, as well as boost funding for CYFD childcare programming for infants and children under five years old.

The goal was simple, said Egolf: “To make sure that we’re taking reasonable and responsible steps to reduce the number and need for abortion services.”

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, scoffed at the amendment, calling it “a ‘gotcha’ substitute that is clearly violative of the House rules.” 

Added Gentry, “We’re dealing with women’s healthcare issues, health insurance, and then early childhood funding, which by no stretch of the imagination have anything to do with one another. I’m sure it’s clear to every member of this body that the original bill … had to do with banning late-term abortions. This has nothing to do with that.”

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, argued the amendment was “absolutely an attempt to limit the number of abortions in New Mexico through contraceptive care,” but Speaker of the House Don Tripp, D-Socorro, disagreed, rejecting the amendment on a rules basis.

An effort to overrule his decision fell on party-lines.

Republican members of the House came forward with full-throated support of both abortion measures, thanking the sponsors for introducing the legislation.

“This is a bill that takes into true healthcare considerations for the mother if her health is in danger or there are complications,” said Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.

Said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, “as a kid who was raised in a rough part of town, I knew many girls who had to make decisions about unwanted pregnancy … They didn’t wait 20 weeks, and they still will have that same option today.”

Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, said there was no legislation and no exceptions that would account for the individual circumstances every woman faces during pregnancy.

I stand up for the right of the woman to make these decisions of her own,” Louis said.

Herrell, in her final statements before her bill’s successful passage, said that “we are legislating for these unborn.” She cited the fact that charges of manslaughter can be leveled against someone whose reckless behavior causes a pregnant woman to miscarry her pregnancy. 

“This is a right-to-life bill,” she said.

There was a similarly divided discussion on Baldonado’s proposal after the House approved Herrell’s bill.

Egolf echoed the same objections objections he’d raised previous committee proceedings about the so-called “right of refusal” wording in both bills.

“If a [medical] employee believes regular birth control is abortive, they can deny it, or an IUD,” said Egolf. “This is a sweeping change to the law, ladies and gentlemen. It’s giving sweeping powers to the clerk at the drug store to deny Plan B over the counter to a rape victim.”

Yet the bulk of the debate centered on potential pros and cons heard throughout the session’s previous committee meetings.

“As an overbearing mother, I get it,” said Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces. Unfortunately, she added, she’d also known pregnant teenage girls whose parents reacted to the news with violence or by ostracizing them.

Republicans, on the other hand, said they applauded Baldonado for what some said they considered to be a “parents’ rights” proposal.

“It’s a common sense law,” said Baldonado, who said abortion providers can easily disseminate the necessary information about his proposed new requirements and help minors navigate their options.

Both pieces of legislation had debate cut off after three hours, the time at which a majority can vote to end debate.

The five Democrats to vote for the ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy were Reps. Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe, Carl Trujillo of Santa Fe, Debbie Rodella of Espanola, Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup and Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque.

The two Democrats to vote for the parental notification bill were Rep. Dona Irwin of Deming and Ruiloba.


  • Margaret Wright

    Margaret Wright is a freelance writer and editor born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She has also worked as a teacher, social worker and waitress. She was promoted from contributor to managing editor of Albuquerque’s alt.weekly Alibi before going on to co-found the New Mexico Compass (R.I.P.), a digital news and culture outlet with an emphasis on mentoring fledgling journalists.