February 4, 2021

Abortion ban repeal bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee

With a vote along party lines, SB 10 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in what has been the shortest committee hearing on repealing the 1969 abortion ban so far.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Six Democrats on the committee voted yes and the three Republicans voted no. Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, allowed each side 10 minutes for public comment and both the proponents of the bill and the opponents of the bill 10 minutes to give presentations. Cervantes said an email account had been published that allowed additional public comment and those emails had been shared with committee members. Discussion around the bill took about an hour.

State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said that when the bill came before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019 he added an amendment that kept a section of the criminal code that left a “conscience provision in the criminal code absent any criminal statute.”

He called the 2019 amendment “misplaced.”

That bill failed to pass the Senate despite Ivey-Soto’s amendment.

“For that reason, as the bill has been working its way through during this session, and I’ve taken a look at it, I’m acknowledging I did make that amendment in this committee,” Ivey-Soto said. “I’m not going to make that at this time. It appears not to have given anybody any comfort to do that.”

During each of the previous committee hearings in both the House and the Senate a discussion has ensued about health care providers who have called in to say they will leave their profession or the state if the law is passed.

The bill on the House side is also awaiting a hearing on that chamber’s floor.

But there are several protections in place that enable a provider to refuse to provide care if the needed care goes against that provider’s personal convictions. Several medical providers have spoken in support of the bill  and have said that providers will still be able to exercise their right to refuse abortion care if they chose to. Organizations such as the New Mexico Medical Society and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology are in favor of the bill.

Ivey-Soto addressed some of the criticisms and concerns that he found in the emails during the committee hearing. He asked expert witness Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, several clarifying questions.

Ivey-Soto asked if the bill was hastily drafted. He said an email from a member of the public claimed that it had been. 

Rushforth said the bill repeals three sections in the criminal code, which have been heard and debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee before and that many experts in health rights have weighed in on the scope of the legislation.

Ivey-Soto asked if the bill allows sex traffickers and sex abusers to take a pregnant minor to get an abortion. Some have repeatedly claimed during the opposition side during public comment that the bill would encourage sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Ivey-Soto said an email from a member of the public also raised that concern.

Rushforth said that is not in the scope of the bill.

“Healthcare providers already have robust protections in place for patients they see to screen for social and medical indicators whether or not someone is a victim or survivor of abuse and that is not what this bill would allow,” Rushforth said.

Ivey-Soto asked if the bill would allow for abortion up to birth and infanticide. He said a member of the public also sent an email raising that concern.

Rushforth said there is much misinformation about abortions that happen later in pregnancy.

“What such patently false and dangerous claims do is vilify the families and women making highly complex decisions in consultation with highly trained doctors that must be led with medical judgment not politics. No, that’s not what this bill is about. And it’s not what this bill would allow,” Rushforth said.

Both Republican Senators Gregory Baca, of Belen, and Mark Moores, of Albuquerque, spoke in opposition to the bill. Moores said there is “one millisecond” between pre-viability and viability of the fetus.

Because every pregnancy is different, and gestation is a gradual process, there is no set time for viability. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld that states may not ban abortion at a specific gestation, according to reproductive research organization the Guttmacher Instutite.

Baca talked about the “rights” of the fetus.

While there was no rebuttal for Baca’s argument during the committee hearing, the ACLU has said that pregnant people and their fetuses should never be regarded as separate, independent or adversarial.

Ivey-Soto also told a personal story about a time when he, as a young man, was faced with what to do about an unintended pregnancy.

He said that he and his former partner at the time chose adoption but, he said, he went into a deep depression for a long time afterward.

“I recognize the weight of these decisions falls grossly and disproportionately on women, not on men. It’s important to me as a state we respect women to make the correct decision for themselves and their families and know they are doing the right thing,” Ivey-Soto said.