January 26, 2019

Bill repealing pre-Roe law criminalizing abortion clears first committee

Andy Lyman

New Mexico took a small step towards removing a currently unenforceable state law criminalizing abortion Saturday.

House Bill 51 (HB 51) — which repeals a 1969 statute that made receiving and performing abortion a fourth-degree felony — passed the the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

New Mexico is one of nine states with a statute criminalizing abortion. The landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision made the state law unenforceable.

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee started just after 8:30 a.m. The hearing was moved to the House floor due to interest in the bill, and public comment lasted for over three hours.

For the most part, people stuck to the time limit, and only once did Liz Thomson, the Democratic committee chair, have to break in, to remind speakers to refrain from talking about the other side. Public comment lasted for three and a half hours, with 70 individuals speaking against HB 51, and 59 speaking in support of the bill.

A majority of speakers who opposed the bill argued that it was “bad for women, bad for children and bad for doctors.” The majority of speakers speaking in support focused on how the bill makes abortion “safe, accessible and legal.”

Even before debate among the committee began, Rep. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, sought to table the bill. The attempt failed on party lines, with Democrats voting against the motion.

Much of the Republican opposition center on  the removal of a section that says the state cannot require any person or institution to perform abortions on moral or medical grounds, Schmedes said that he would “not support the bill as it’s written” right now.

“I do believe that some of these statutes should be repealed,” he said. “They’re outdated, especially the first one as it’s been ruled unconstitutional.”

Federal and state laws allow both healthcare providers and many institutions to refuse specific treatments in non-emergency settings for end-of-life and reproductive cases as long as alternate options are provided.

Ellie Rushforth, Senior Staff Attorney at Women’s Law Center, testified as an expert for Rep. Joanne Ferrary’s bill, said that the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act would allow for conscientious objection to performing treatment because “it applies to all healthcare decisions broadly defined.”

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.