February 20, 2021

Historic abortion ban repeal one signature away from becoming law after it passes House

The bill that would repeal a state statute that criminalizes abortion care in New Mexico is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk after the House of Representatives passed it on a 40 to 30 vote.

This is a priority bill for Lujan Grisham and she has indicated that she would sign it into law. 

The House of Representatives took up SB 10 instead of HB 7, which are mirror bills. SB 10 already passed the state Senate by a vote of 25 to 17 on February 12, and was amended to clarify the bill’s title. Each chamber must pass identical legislation before it can be sent to the governor.

Related: In historic turn, state Senate passes abortion ban repeal

Just as during the Senate floor debate, Republicans in the House attempted to amend the bill and argued for hours over keeping the section of the law that is considered by some healthcare workers as a refusal clause. But the New Mexico Medical Society and other physician groups support the law’s full repeal and the lead sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, a Democrat from Mesilla, argued that there are already provisions in place to protect healthcare workers who object to providing care.

The bill, once signed into law, will not create any change to the way abortion care is currently practiced, Cadena and other bill sponsors have said throughout the process. But it does take abortion care out of the criminal code and ensures that if the conservative bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade, abortion care will remain legal and safe in this state.

Rep. Moe Maestas, a Democrat from Albuquerque, called the 1969 statutes unconstitutional and said that conservatives should want to remove the statutes from the books.  

Referring to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Roe v. Wade took place in 1973, Maestes said the statutes banning abortion in 1969 “should have been removed in the next legislative session in 1975.”

“We take that oath to follow the Constitution and to defend the Constitution so to not take it off the books is contrary to the Constitution, bottom line,” Maestes said.

Some healthcare providers have argued during the committee hearings that they will leave the state or leave their profession if this bill is passed. Some Republicans raised this as an issue on the House floor. Cadena said during the House debate that she is concerned over the misinformation circulating in the public discourse.

Co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, Rachael Lorenzo, of the Laguna Pueblo and gender nonbinary, told New Mexico Political Report and has provided court testimony that the first doctor they saw in a New Mexico hospital emergency room refused abortion care despite the fact that they were severely hemorrhaging while pregnant. Lorenzo said their initial doctor did not state a reason why he would not provide care.

Related: Once denied a necessary abortion, Indigenous Women Rising co-founder speaks out

The first attempt to amend the bill came from Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Republican from Carlsbad. But Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who is the House parliamentarian, argued that  Brown had introduced a completely different bill, not an amendment. Ely said Brown’s proposal was not germane.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, agreed with Ely and, after some debate, the House voted to uphold Egolf’s decision to remove Brown’s proposal because it was a completely separate bill.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, also tried to amend the bill. She made provisions that would have kept the section of the statute that conservatives maintain is a refusal clause for physicians.

It would have also inserted a new statute making “back alley” abortions illegal. Dow argued that there is a lack of standard of care when it comes to abortion and that current abortion care is not safe.

But, experts in reproductive care have said that abortion is one of the safest procedures available and is safer than pregnancy.  The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) have said that the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 14 times higher than that with abortion.

The association also has said in its guidance that a lack of access to care most impacts communities of color and 75 percent of people seeking abortion care are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, referred to abortions that happen later in pregnancy. As the repeal bills have made their way through the Legislative process, conservatives have frequently referred to New Mexico as the “abortion capital,” and brought up concerns about “elective late term abortion,” and “abortion up to birth.”

According to the ACOG, 88 percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks. According to the reproductive research organization the Guttmacher Institute, abortions in the state represent 0.5 percent of all abortions in the U.S.

ACOG lists the many reasons people seek abortion care, which include contraceptive failure, barriers to contraceptive use and access, rape, incest, violence, fetal anomalies, exposure to certain harmful medications, and complications such as placental abruption or preeclampsia or other medical issues.

The passage of this bill represents a long battle for some advocates and legislators. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said she started serving the legislature in 2013 and repealing the 1969 statutes was a discussion back then.

Earlier attempts to pass a similar bill failed to reach either House or Senate Chamber. But in 2019 the Legislature almost passed HB 51, which was virtually identical to the current legislation. Eight Democratic state Senators voted against it, along with all Republicans to defeat the bill. Now, all but three of those Democratic state Senators were voted out of office. Some of their seats are now held by Republicans but five of them lost their primary elections last year to progressive Democrats who spoke openly about reproductive rights. One passed away.

This time, six House Democrats voted against SB 10. Those Democrats were Representatives Anthony Allison, of Fruitland, Ambrose Castellano, of Las Vegas, Harry Garcia, of Grants, D. Wonda Johnson, of Church Rock, Patricia Lundstrom, of Gallup and Candie Sweetser, of Deming. All Republicans voted against it.

Rep. Phelps Anderson, of Roswell, an independent who recently changed his party registration to Decline to State from Republican after receiving push back for his vote in favor of the bill during a committee hearing, voted in favor.

Reproductive rights organizations, such as Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, celebrated the House’s vote Friday. Sondra Roeuny, director of public affairs for PPVNM, called the vote a “victory.”

“In this moment, we reflect on how far we have come, and look to a bright future for reproductive rights in our state. Today, we’ve made history – and it’s only the beginning.”