March 22, 2021

The 2021 Legislature called ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ by reproductive justice advocates

Laura Paskus

With the passage of legislation to repeal the state’s outdated abortion ban and the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, many in the reproductive justice community called the 2021 Legislative session “extraordinary.”

All reproductive rights groups NM Political Report spoke with cited the passage of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, or SB 10, as one of the biggest victories and a major piece of legislation to come out of the 2021 session. Legislators fast tracked the bill through committee hearings and it passed both chambers before the session’s end. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in February.

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

The bill repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion and made it a fourth-degree felony for a medical practitioner to perform one.

Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called the 2021 Legislative session “historic.”

Rushforth said it was in contrast to other states, where in the first few months of 2021, state legislatures have introduced close to 400 pieces of anti-abortion legislation.

“New Mexico is one of the first states in 2021 to affirmatively protect access to abortion care,” Rushforth said.

Adriann Barboa, New Mexico policy director for Forward Together, also called this a watershed year in terms of legislation, particularly with the passage of SB 10.

“We got to state clearly this is a New Mexico value. If anything happens at the federal level, people would have safe and legal access to abortion care,” Barboa said.

Reproductive rights experts warned before the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that Roe v. Wade might not remain the law of the land for much longer. But once she died and the U.S. Congress appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg, reproductive rights experts have said that the landmark 1973 decision could potentially be overturned or gutted so much that abortion would be legal in name only.

Related: Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to Supreme Court, as New Mexico’s senators vote against

For Indigenous Women Rising cofounder Rachel Lorenzo, gender nonbinary and of the Laguna Pueblo, the passage of SB10 means that “we can breathe a little easier.”

“No matter what happens to Roe, our people won’t be criminalized for seeking basic healthcare,” Lorenzo said.

But, for Indigenous people, the abortion care issue has larger racial and social justice implications because of the centuries of colonial oppression and racism Native Americans have experienced.

“It was not until the 1970s that we were able to practice our traditional ceremonies without fear of being incarcerated,” Lorenzo said.

Lorenzo said the passage of the Indigenous Religious Freedom Act in 1978 protected Indigenous people to practice their religious ceremonies without fear of arrest. Until then, Indigenous people were at risk of arrest or persecution because of laws passed in the 1800s. Those laws were designed to convert Native people to Christianity, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

For Indigenous Women Rising, a grassroots organization that provides both an abortion fund and a midwifery fund to help Native people, the passage of SB 10 is also about “reclaiming our autonomy on Native land as Native people,” Lorenzo said.

“For too long, government has been involved in a lot of our decisions – where we send our kids to school, what kind of health care we have access to through Indian Health Services,” Lorenzo said.

Civil Rights Act

Another bill many in the reproductive rights community brought up as a watershed bill was HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which passed both chambers earlier this month. The bill removes qualified immunity as a legal defense and it enables individuals whose civil rights have been violated to seek financial remedy through the courts. The bill allows for the possibility of attorney’s fees to also be recoverable, at the discretion of the judge. This could make justice more accessible for people without means, some civil rights experts have said.

Related: New Mexico Civil Rights bill could end qualified immunity as a civil defense

Rushforth called the passage of HB 4 “an incredible victory that will lead to more New Mexicans having the ability, when their civil rights are violated, to hold those bad actors accountable.”

“The scales of justice are always in a careful balancing act. I think we’re tipping the scales toward justice after this legislative session,” Rushforth said.

Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called the passage of HB 4 “huge.”

“We have to start by remembering that the modern LGBTQ movement started as a result of police brutality. Stonewall happened mostly because trans women of color were tired of being abused by the police. That is one place we’ve never progressed,” Martinez said.

The Stonewall Riots were an uprising in New York City in 1969 against the police that acted as a catalyst for the LGBTQ movement.

Martinez said policy brutality toward the LGBTQ community continues to this day, including in New Mexico.

“I don’t know a single queer person in Albuquerque who hasn’t been, at the bare minimum, treated poorly by law enforcement. I could tell you dozens of stories of drag queens pulled over late at night. The emotional and physical abuse they suffered because they were switching gender roles in presentation,” Martinez said.

Lorenzo said HB 4 is important for Native people because law enforcement in U.S. history is connected to hunting down escaped slaves and removing Indigenous people off the land.

“There’s such a deep connection between the history of law enforcement and extraction. It’s one way to ideally have law enforcement officers think twice before pulling out their gun,” Lorenzo said.

Healthy Workplaces Act

Another piece of landmark legislation this session is the passage of HB 20, or the Healthy Workplaces Act. The passage of the bill, which requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, led to significant disagreement and acrimony among Democrats on the Senate floor in the early hours of Friday morning. Republicans and some moderate Democrats wanted public sector employees to be added to the bill which mandates that all private sector employees earn up to one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Attempts to amend the bill to include public sector employees failed and the bill made final passage in the House with one hour left in the session Saturday morning. Lujan Grisham supports the bill and is expected to sign it. It will enable private sector employees to earn up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year.

Related: Paid sick leave bill heads to Guv’s desk

Lorenzo said the passage of the Healthy Workplaces Act is an important bill for Native people because “a majority of our Native women are heads of households.”

“From a reproductive justice standpoint, it’s important to talk about Native families’ access to basic living needs like homes and food and taking care of family and if women at work are not safe then families pay for that, too. From our perspective, anything that protects people in the service industry during a pandemic is also a reproductive justice issue because our people are working in these industries,” Lorenzo said.

Martinez also said the LGBTQ community is also affected by the passage of HB 20 for similar reasons.

“It’s a big deal for LGBTQ folks because a majority of LGBTQ folks work in low wage hourly jobs and we already have all of these barriers to health care. The last thing we need to think about is whether or not we can afford to take two hours for a doctor appointment after finding a doctor who will be empathetic,” Martinez said.