February 26, 2021

Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

Called historic, New Mexico decriminalized abortion on Friday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act into law, after years of efforts by abortion rights supporters.

SB 10 repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion by banning it with very few exceptions. 

Lujan Grisham said “a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.”

“Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “New Mexico is not in that business – not any more. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality. Equality for all, equal justice and equal treatment – that’s the standard. And I’m proud to lead a state that today moved one step closer to that standard.”

Many in the reproduction rights community said the passage of this law is long overdue and that it is a historic moment. Adriann Barboa, field director for the nonprofit Forward Together/Strong Families New Mexico, called New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado the progressive belt for abortion care.

“Now we can move forward with the real reproductive needs of our communities and break away from the shame and stigma that impacts people’s everyday reproductive healthcare,” Barboa said.

Providing an abortion was a fourth-degree felony under the previous law.

Repealing the law should have been done in the 1975 legislature, House Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said during the House of Representatives debate last week. Once the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, the New Mexico law became unconstitutional, he said.

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

But, though unenforceable, the law remained on the books for decades. Barboa, said the reproductive rights community has been working on a bill to decriminalize abortion and repeal the 1969 statute since 2017.

In 2019 the bill stalled in the state Senate when eight conservative Democrats voted, along with Republicans, against a largely identical bill. One of those state Senators later died while in office. Of the seven that ran for reelection in 2020, five lost their primary bid to progressive candidates who ran on abortion care and other progressive policies. Three of those progressives went on to win the general election. Democrats also picked up three seats in the Albuquerque area in 2020 that had previously been held by Republicans.

Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins

This provided enough votes for the bill to pass in the state Senate during this legislative session. Only two Democrats, state Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup and Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas opposed it. All Republicans voted against it.

SB 10 then went to the House of Representatives, where it passed on a 40 to 30 vote. Six House Democrats voted against it and all Republicans did. Rep. Phelps Anderson, of Roswell, changed his affiliation from Republican to Decline to State after criticism of his vote on the issue in the committee process and voted in favor.

The only difference between SB 10 and the 2019 bill is that the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill in 2019 to preserve the section of the statute that said doctors could refuse to provide a medically necessary abortion.

Reproductive rights experts have said that no part of the statute should remain in the criminal code and that there are ample protections for medical workers who refuse to provide abortion due to personal conviction. Rep. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said during the Senate Judiciary Committee for SB 10 that he amended the 2019 bill in an effort to compromise but that he would not offer an amendment to SB10.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said during the Senate floor debate earlier this month that amending the bill to keep the criminal statute that would allow providers to refuse a medically necessary abortion did not help the bill to pass in 2019 and that the issue has been “front and center” ever since.

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

Although one Republican argument during the bill debate was that medical workers would leave the state or leave their profession if the bill passed, nothing changes now that the bill has become law. Barboa said the passage of the bill does not change abortion care but “it allows that we don’t have that unending threat and that we have some of the greatest access.”

“We can lift up abortion funds without worry,” Barboa said.

The main impetus for passing the law at this juncture is the threat that Roe v. Wade could be overturned after the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The 6-3 conservative bloc on the Supreme Court puts the landmark decision that legalized abortion in 1973 in jeopardy.

The passage of the bill has other intrinsic, positive effects, according to advocates. Krystal Curley, who is Diné (a member of the Navajo Nation) and director of Indigenous Life Ways and a legislative fellow with Forward Together, said bodily autonomy “is something that is sacred” for her community.

She said colonization took away Indigenous people’s bodily autonomy through assimilation policies intended to eradicate Native Americans through forced child separation into boarding schools that began as early as the 1800s, a policy that continued well into the twentieth century. The U.S. government also forced sterilization on Native American women.

“It’s an historic bill that finally gives us the chance to have that bodily autonomy. For us, we’ve always had that choice in the natural world to have an abortion. For ourselves and our daughters and for the generations to come, it’s a very monumental, historic moment,” Curley said.

Curley, who gave public testimony during committee hearings, said it was “an honor and a blessing to dispel all these myths about Indigenous people.”

“They (anti-abortion legislators) have these stereotypes about us. Finally, we have a chance to tell our stories to be part of the decision-making power to push legislation through that is meaningful not just for Indigenous people but for all New Mexico women and pregnant people,” Curley said.

Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called passage of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act a “culture shift” and historic for the LGBTQ community.

Abortion care is not just a “woman’s” issue, Martinez said.

“The gentle reminder there is that transgender people can get pregnant and they need access to the full range of health care and that includes abortion. It’s a good reminder to folks that the spectrum of gender is vast,” Martinez said.

 Martinez said that “at the heart of this bill” is bodily autonomy, which makes a bill about decriminalizing abortion an LGBTQ issue.

“The fight is always centered on ‘we know who we are, we should be treated with respect and dignity and we should have the autonomy to make decisions,’” Martinez said.

He said the passage of SB 10 into law also gives him hope.

“It opens the door for better LGBTQ policies in the long term because we have taken one really big step to really respect autonomy in policy,” Martinez said.

State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who was the lead sponsor on SB 10, said through a statement that “the time has finally come to get this outdated abortion law off the books.”

“Abortion is a personal healthcare decision. We can hold our own moral values on abortion and still trust individuals to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” Lopez wrote.

For Socorro Linden, whose mother had an abortion in the 1970s after having had ten children, telling her mother’s story during public testimony was important because she would like to see the shame and stigma end, she said. Linden’s mother suffered complications because of the poor care she received.

“What I’m trying to convey with her story, there are many situations. Every individual has a very unique decision they have to make for themselves,” Linden said.