October 15, 2020

Bernalillo County District Attorney signs statement that he won’t criminalize abortion care

Andy Lyman

2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez

Raúl Torrez, Bernalillo County District Attorney, signed a joint statement from elected prosecutors around the country who pledged not to criminalize abortion care.

Bernalillo County is home to most of the clinics that provide abortions in the state. An additional clinic exists in both Santa Fe County and Doña Ana County.

The statement, produced by Fair and Just Prosecution, a fiscally-sponsored project of a public charity called The Tides Center, stated that the 62 prosecutors who signed it would neither prosecute nor criminalize abortion care.

“What brings us together is our view that as prosecutors we should not and will not criminalize healthcare decisions such as these – and we believe it is our obligation as elected prosecutors charged with protecting the health and safety of all members of our community to make our views clear,” according to the statement.

Some of the laws passed in recent years in some states around the nation appear to be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the statement said.

“…Our commitment to not prosecute women who obtain abortions and health care professionals who provide treatment is not predicated on these concerns alone – and, indeed, would hold even if the protections of Roe v. Wade were to be eroded or overturned,” according to the letter.

Matt Baca, chief counsel for the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas told NM Political Report in an email that if Roe v. Wade is overturned by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court bench, it would be up to individual district attorneys to enforce the state’s 1969 abortion law or not.

Baca said Balderas’ office encourages the state’s district attorneys to focus instead on prosecuting those who abuse children and that Balderas’ office supports the repeal of the 1969 law.

Related: New Mexico’s 1969 abortion law was one in a long line of laws restricting access

The joint statement said that the “recent and ongoing enactment of restrictive laws demonstrates the ways that reproductive rights have been and will continue to be under assault and the willingness of state legislatures around the nation to criminalize these personal health care decisions.”

Some New Mexico legislators have attempted to introduce bills in the past that would criminalize abortion. State Rep. Rod Montoya, a Republican who represents House District 1, filed three bills, HB 208, HB 209 and HB 210 during the 2020 session. All three bills were attempts to restriction abortion care in the state. The bills did not advance from their initial committees.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, many in the reproductive community anticipate that New Mexico will be a critical state in the nation’s need for abortion care as many surrounding states will likely ban it or restrict it out of existence.

Related: With a health care crisis under way, New Mexico could be critical for abortion access

According to the joint statement, Roe v. Wade has established legal precedent for close to 50 years.

“Enforcement of laws that criminalize healthcare decisions would shatter that precedent, impose untenable choices on victims and healthcare providers and erode trust in the integrity of our justice system,” the letter stated.