January 26, 2021

Abortion ban repeal bill clears first hurdle Monday

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Senate Bill 10, which would repeal the 1969 abortion ban on state law books, passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee 5-3 Monday.

The vote fell along party lines with the three Republican state Senators voting against and the five Democrats on the committee voting in favor.

After a two hour wait due to technical difficulties, the committee hearing ran for nearly 2.5 hours due to the length of the debate on the issue. Members of the public for both sides gave impassioned speeches both for and against.

“(The bill) makes sure that women, in collaboration with their provider and families, can make decisions for themselves. It protects the system we have now in place. It doesn’t drive doctors away. It just maintains the status quo,” said state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

State Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, addressed one of the main concerns that came up during the public comment. Some health care workers’ expressed concern that they would be compelled to perform abortions against their beliefs.

Schmedes talked at length with state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, about adding an amendment to the bill that would create a “conscience” clause for health care workers.

Wirth, as well as expert witness Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, detailed at length the fact that no medical practitioner in the state would have to perform an abortion if they did not wish to do so.

Rushforth called Schmedes’ claims that medical practitioners would be forced to perform abortions or be sued or fired if the bill is passed “dangerous misinformation.”

“There are robust protections in state and federal law to allow clinicians to decide what care they provide,” Rushforth said. “Any other claims are simply inaccurate.”

SB 10, which is one paragraph long, would repeal the 1969 law that banned abortion before the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. If the Supreme Court does not overturn or gut Roe v. Wade, reproductive health care in the state would not change.

Republican state Sen. Stuart Ingle, of Portales, said he didn’t think Roe v. Wade would ever be overturned.

But reproductive experts expect that with a 6-3 bloc majority on the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade will change. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts signaled last summer that he is not in favor of abortion in the June Medical Services LLC v. Russo decision. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not force abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. But the court did so because of recent precedent, and Roberts stated that he did not agree with the Supreme Court’s earlier decision.

Related: A ‘win’ for abortion rights Monday doesn’t mean fight is over, say advocates

Now, the Supreme Court has before it a case out of Mississippi called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reproductive experts are watching. Mississippi is one of several states that have passed gestational bans on abortion. All of them have been stayed by the courts while lawsuits around the cases are heard. The state of Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion is the first of its kind to make it to the Supreme Court. It could be the first test of the new court on Roe v. Wade.

Schmedes and state Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, both tried to argue that passage of SB 10 would mean that women could have abortions up to birth. Schmedes also tried to argue that a physician can save a woman’s life by performing a cesarean section to deliver a baby rather than perform an abortion.

Roe v. Wade allows abortion up to viability. Because every pregnancy is unique, the point of viability would differ. The vast majority of women who have abortions later in their pregnancy do so due to significant complications that were found later in the term. Also, abortions later in pregnancy cost thousands of dollars, according to reproductive experts.

Schmedes said he would not add an amendment to change language in the bill without talking to Wirth and state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the lead sponsor. Wirth said he welcomed a discussion but he also said he expects Schmedes to add an amendment to add a “conscience” clause to the bill.

“I fully anticipate an amendment will be presented. It would create a separate category for one type of healthcare procedure. I would not support that amendment if it is brought,” Wirth said.