February 15, 2016

Another GOP Rep breaks ranks, stops abortion legislation

Matthew Reichbach

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

New Mexico Legislature

Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park

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.

“What I’m hearing is we don’t know if anybody is potentially violating this,” Smith said.

In Albuquerque, one women’s health clinic, Southwest Women’s Options, is known for practicing abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy. Efforts to ban the late-term abortions that that clinic practices have been ongoing for at least three years, with a failed city ballot initiative and multiple failed legislative bills that would have restricted abortions to less than 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Earlier this session, Montoya sponsored legislation that would have mandated emergency medical care of any infant showing signs of life, including if it happens after a late-term abortion procedure. Advocates of abortion rights dismissed Montoya’s bill as the latest attempt to go after late-term abortion practices.

That bill failed in committee with another Republican, Rep. Andy Nuñez from Hatch, voting against it. Nuñez later made a failed attempt to revive it and change his vote.

Montoya’s memorial would have called on the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department to coordinate with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services Department to monitor if and when infants are aborted after a live birth. Memorials aren’t required to be followed by the force of law, through Montoya said he had talked with CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson about the matter.

Opponents of the memorial testified that medical boards already regulate doctor practices and said that CYFD isn’t the right agency to monitor medical procedures. Sheila Lewis, an attorney and director of Santa Fe Safe, told NM Political Report that CYFD has nothing in its charter relating to the role it’s assigned in Montoya’s memorial.

Lewis called the memorial a “chilling” attempt to intimidate physicians and patients by including CYFD, which investigates abuse and neglect of children.

She also mentioned potential problems with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that ensures patient and doctor confidentiality. Smith raised concerns about potential HIPAA issues as well, mentioning that he didn’t want public disclosure of “so personal” of a medical procedure.

“It puts too much burden on people going through this decision,” Smith said.

Montoya maintained all he was seeking to do was have the state report infants who are “born alive” after abortion procedures. He said found it “embarrassing” that as a legislator he would now have to rely on public records requests to try to answer his concerns.