January 7, 2016

In budget session, some lawmakers will push against abortion

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.

stressed woman doctor

File photo

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.

Herrell said she won’t file the bill unless she gets a definitive yes from Martinez.

“I don’t want to people in Legislative Council [Service] to spend time on a bill that would not get attention on the governor’s call,” Herrell told NM Political Report.

Martinez said in previous years that she would sign such a bill if made it to her desk. But she did not directly address the issue at a Tuesday afternoon press conference where she announced her budget proposal for the year.

“We haven’t decided yet what issues are going to be on the call,” she said after a question by NM Political Report. “We’re still discussing the specifics and we’ll let you know when we have them.”

Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue are watching and waiting.

“We’re on alert to oppose bills that interfere with a woman’s right to choose,” Erin Armstrong, a reproductive rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said.

Denicia Cadena, a policy director at Young Women United, which also supports abortion rights, said she’s anticipating possible bills seeking to stop fetal tissue donations and requiring minors seeking abortions to inform an adult about their decision.

New Mexico Alliance for Life, which opposes abortion, has recently scrutinized the University of New Mexico’s acceptance of fetal tissue donations from Southwest Women’s Options, an Albuquerque health clinic that provides abortion procedures into the third trimester of pregnancy. UNM uses fetal tissue for medical research for life-threatening diseases and conditions.

Bills seeking to ban late-term abortions are typically introduced and usually die in the committee process. Last year, a newly Republican-controlled state House of Representatives passed a late-term ban, which eventually died in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. A bill requiring parental notification for minors suffered the same fate.

Lawmakers could try to cut at the issue another way. New Mexico is one of 17 states that allows Medicaid beneficiaries to access to abortions with state money. Last year, lawmakers in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Indiana defunded Planned Parenthood funding, all of which are being challenged in court.

Cadena said she hasn’t heard that any similar bills will be introduced here.

“Across the country politicians have made moves to defund Planned Parenthood and other providers,” Cadena said, “and we haven’t seen the same move in New Mexico.”

Any attempts to defund state abortion clinic funding would also be severely limited by a 1999 New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that said taking abortion access away from the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries violates the state’s Equal Rights Act.

Another bill could indirectly affect women’s reproductive health. State Reps. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, and Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, recently filed a bill to allow business owners to refuse service based on religious beliefs. In an interview with NM Political Report in November, Gallegos said the point of the bill is to protect religious rights.

“There’s a fear at the church level that anything we do will be sued upon,” Gallegos said, referring to the Elane Photography v. Willock case involving a photographer who refused service in the wedding of a gay couple. “How do we make it fair for all?”

Gallegos has asked the governor to put the bill on the call. Unlike Herrell, he said prefiled the legislation and said that he would “keep working like it is on the call” while Martinez decides.

Though Cadena said that the bill first and foremost targets LGBT people, she said she believes the language is broad enough to allow healthcare professionals to deny selling birth control. Armstrong called the bill a “blatant attempt to legalize discrimination.”

Even if such a bill were to pass the get signed into law, it would almost certainly face a challenge in court. As they did to abortion Medicaid rights in 1999, the state Supreme Court also affirmed that photographers couldn’t refuse to serve a customer just because they’re gay. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.