February 15, 2017

Senate committee tables ‘20-week’ abortion ban

Laura Paskus

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.

Lawmakers in the committee voted to table the bill, sponsored by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, and Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, 5-3.

Stewart raised her own personal experiences at the meeting.

“I had two babies and lost them both,” she said. “One was born at 25 weeks, a beautiful boy, with no lungs. Then another was born at 26 weeks, a beautiful boy, with no lungs.”

Stewart explained that assuming fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation are always viable—meaning they have a decent chance of living outside of the womb—isn’t supported by science.

New Mexico is home to Southwestern Women’s Options, an Albuquerque clinic that is often targeted by anti-abortion activists for performing abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy. In 2013, an Albuquerque ballot initiative to ban abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy failed. But since then Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to do so on the state level.

The afternoon began sloppily before the hearing started as crowd of people waited for nearly three hours past the scheduled start time for the hearing to begin.

New Mexico Alliance for Life Executive Director Elisa Martinez shed tears as she shared a story about her mother’s regret of having an abortion.

“I was born a year after my brother was aborted,” she said. “My mother stated that, ‘It was then I realized what I did to my baby.’”

Others testified in support of the bill, like Laura Rosecrans, who described herself as a counselor to women who have gotten abortions. She argued the ban  would protect women. Rosecrans recalled how getting an abortion when she was younger affected her negatively.

“I understand women who have no problems with their abortions and that’s fine,” she said. “I have counseled 100 women and not a single one is proud of their abortions.”

Other women who had abortions spoke against the bill, including Candace Lopez, who said she went through a procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“With that experience, I learned abortion is very complicated,” she said.

Erin Armstrong of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico testified that the bill wouldn’t meet constitutional standards, and Marshall Martinez of Planned Parenthood New Mexico testified that his organization doesn’t encourage blanket abortions for its patients.

“We have even stepped in when women seem coerced to make their decision,” Martinez said.

Adriann Barboa of Strong Families New Mexico shared a story about how her cousin was always against abortion until he personally experienced a pregnancy complication with his wife.

“His wife became allergic to her pregnancy,” Barboa said. “He made the determination to not be the decisionmaker. He became upset and didn’t know what to do. He wanted his wife to be able to live. He now understands the need for women to have access to reproductive health.”

Stefanics, who voted to table the bill, said the constituent emails on this subject that “touched” her the most came “from women having to make a decision.”

“Regardless of what decisions they had to make, it was still the women’s decision,” Stefanics said.

Update, Wednesday 10am: Added context to quote from New Mexico Alliance for Life Executive Director Elisa Martinez.