March 10, 2017

House panel passes bill to remove pre Roe v. Wade law criminalizing abortion

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

A Democratic-majority House committee voted along party lines Thursday afternoon to remove pre-Roe v. Wade language in state statute that criminalizes abortion practices.

The original state law, passed in New Mexico in 1968, makes “criminal abortion” subject to a fourth-degree felony. It defines “criminal abortion” as any action or attempt at an “untimely termination” of a pregnancy that is not “medically justified.” A medically justified abortion, according to state law, is limited to abortions in cases of pregnancy from rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

The landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in most cases across the country, made state laws like this obsolete.

Related story: House committee stalls another round of abortion bills

But proponents of the bill to strike the old state statute argue that the state language would go right back into law should the U.S. Supreme Court change Roe v. Wade in the future.

“We have an administration that adamantly opposes abortion access, a Congress that has passed innumerable bills to restrict access and an uncertain Supreme Court that could change the law,” Sarah Coffey, a staff attorney with the Southwest Women’s Law Center in Albuquerque, said while testifying to the committee in support of the bill.

Five House Democrats sponsored the bill. They are Joanne Ferrary of Las Cruces, Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque, Harry Garcia of Grants and Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque.

The two Republicans on the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee spoke in support of a portion of the old state law that states that doctors morally or religiously opposed to abortion cannot be forced to perform the procedure if they do not want to.

Related story: Senate committee tables ‘20-week’ abortion ban

“Had you just wanted to take certain criminal portions out of [the state law], I would have supported it,” state Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, said during debate.

She and state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, voted against the bill.

Erin Armstrong, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said federal law already ensures these types of protections for doctors, and that they wouldn’t go away with a repeal of the state law.

With less than two weeks left in the session, the bill still has a ways to go. It heads next to the House Judiciary Committee.