March 5, 2020

Eyes turn to SCOTUS abortion case

Alyssa Schukar/Center for Reproductive Rights

Abortion rights supporters organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights rally as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday for a Louisiana abortion law that could affect the entire country, including New Mexico.

The nine justices on the court were asked to consider whether a Louisiana law that prohibits doctors who do not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to provide abortions conflicts with an identical Texas law the high Court struck down in 2016.

The difference between the Texas case and the Louisiana one is who is sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court bench. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the liberal wing of the court in 2016 and the court struck down the Texas law. But since the U.S. Congress appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the bench in 2018 after a controversial hearing, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights groups both anticipate that the 2016 ruling could be overturned.

Kavanaugh, who replaced Kennedy, may provide the swing vote conservatives are looking for to uphold the law, which abortion rights groups say chips away at abortion rights by impacting access. The Trump administration supports the Louisiana law.

Charlene Bencomo, executive director of the New Mexico nonprofit Bold Futures (formerly Young Women United), said that the Louisiana law restricting abortion access in that state reinforces that “now is the time to protect access in New Mexico.”

“We have that old law on the books. We deserve better than to leave that (abortion rights) to the Supreme Court. We believe in our legislative process here in New Mexico. We need to make it extremely clear and stand up for abortion rights in this state,” she told NM Political Report.

A 1969 abortion ban still exists in New Mexico despite an attempt in the 2019 legislature to repeal it. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham indicated during a Planned Parenthood fundraiser last month that she didn’t put another repeal effort on her call list for the 2020 legislature because the same eight Democratic senators who sided with Republicans would continue to block such an effort.

The Louisiana law is considered by abortion rights groups as a TRAP law, which means targeted regulations against abortion providers. Supporters of such laws claim the laws are intended to safeguard the mother, but really such laws take away from abortion rights. Abortion is one of the safest procedures, according to advocates. Currently, one in four women have had an abortion, according to Planned Parenthood and only very rarely is there a complication afterward.

TRAP laws have another outcome that is harder to measure, Bencomo said.

“I think anytime we see decisions like these around abortion care, it’s concerning. It sets a tone for what’s happening in other states,” Bencomo said.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains officials told NM Political Report last month that they believe that if the Louisiana law is upheld, other states will soon follow with similar laws. The effect will be to shut down providers across the country.

That could leave as many as 25 million women without a single abortion provider in their state. New Mexico would then be one of the few states left that would still provide abortion.

Bencomo said the real affect of TRAP laws are that they impact women who live in rural areas, who are low-income, Indigenous or women of color disproportionately more, making it harder than ever for them to access abortion care.

“It makes it more difficult to access care,” Bencomo said.

Protestors held a rally outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.