February 22, 2020

Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’

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Susan Dunlap

The House debating a bill barring nondisclosure agreements for sexual harassment settlements on Feb. 13, 2020.

Hed: Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’

Many reproductive justice advocates said their biggest disappointment of the 2020 legislative session is that the 1969 New Mexico law banning abortion is still on the books.

But some in the Respect NM Women Coalition, a group of reproductive justice advocates and organizations, say ‘next year.’

“We’re looking forward to repealing the state’s archaic 1969 abortion ban in 2021,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The nonprofit she leads is part of the coalition.

While the law is still on the books, it is not currently enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The law is worrisome for many because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Louisiana law, June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) requiring abortion clinics in that state to be affiliated with a hospital and have admitting privileges. More than 200 Republicans in Congress signed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the high court use this case to reconsider Roe v. Wade. It will be heard in early March.

If the high court does overturn Roe v. Wade, New Mexico’s ban on abortion would go into effect.

In 2019, an effort to overturn the New Mexico law failed in the state Senate when eight Democrats voted along with Republicans against the repeal.

But the abortion ban is only one issue in a panoply of concerns for advocates.

Reproductive justice rights groups agree that not enough is being done for issues some identify as “women’s issues” in the legislature. Only two bills passed out of 12 in this legislative session that were reproductive justice bills.

Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney for ACLU NM, said that part of the problem is that these issues are seen as niche issues or special interest.  

“Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in legislatures not only here but across the country to improve the lives and support women and girls and their families and I think it’s a perfect example of why we need more women in elected office,” Rushforth told NM Political Report.

Lynn Sanchez, who works with victims of human trafficking for The Lift, said she was greatly disappointed that the bills supporting victims of human trafficking and increasing penalties for human traffickers all failed.

She said she got a call Wednesday night to work with a minor who had been trafficked into New Mexico. As many as 5,000 youth in Albuquerque are vulnerable to trafficking, say advocates.

She said the ‘chop shop’ bill, which increases penalties for illegal New Mexico ‘chop shops,” where stolen cars are dismantled, passed the House of Representatives.

“They can’t have people sell car parts, but people can sell human beings,” she said. “They (legislators) don’t see the problem. They think victims are choosing prostitution but that’s not at all true. They are not educated enough.”

Lamunyon Sanford said she was also disappointed the legislature didn’t agree to put more money toward the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

“When are we going to decide it’s worth investing in all of our children?” She asked. “We should be investing in our families.”

Despite the disappointments, advocates saw some wins. Most said they were happy to see HB 25 pass. It is expected to be signed by the Governor and, once signed into law, it will allow pregnant workers and new moms to ask for “reasonable accommodations” from employers.

But that alone was a five-year fight. Terrelene Massey, executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said the nonprofit she leads began its work on that bill in 2015.

Massey said Southwest Women’s Law Center would likely be back for next year’s legislature with a revised version of the Paid Family Medical Leave bill. That bill never made it through a single committee in the 2020 Legislature.

Rushforth said that though President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen’s contraception bills to increase funding to raise awareness about long-acting reversible contraception, such as the Intrauterine device (IUD), did not pass, there are still recurring funds in the 2020 budget allocated to train health care providers on the long-acting reversible contraception. And though a bill to provide funding to expand school-based health clinics also failed, recurring funds in the 2020 budget will enable the school-based health clinics to continue. Most schools in New Mexico have a school-based health clinic but about 10 percent of New Mexico schools lack one.

Rushforth said there is $75,000 in the 2020 budget for schools to carry menstruation products. And a bill passed that will enable pharmacists to bill insurance companies and Medicaid for their time advising patients on things such as emergency contraception and hormonal contraception. Advocates say this will help people who live in rural New Mexico where there is a doctor shortage.

But, many advocates acknowledge the wins this year were small.

“We have a lot more work to do,” Rushforth said.

Correction: This story earlier reported the ‘chop shop’ bill passed the legislature but it passed the House of Representatives only.