See our entire countdown of 2021 top stories here.
New Mexico was one of very few states in 2021 to pass legislation supporting abortion rights.
In a year called “hostile” by reproductive rights advocates because of the more than 100 anti-abortion laws passed in other states in 2021, the New Mexico Legislature passed SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, repealed three sections of criminal code that made abortion illegal in the state. Though currently unenforceable, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, the law would have gone into effect by default if the legislature had not repealed it. Now that the high court has heard a challenge to Roe v. Wade this past fall with the Mississippi 15-week gestation ban, many Supreme Court analysts have said the court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade is a strong possibility.
The old New Mexico statute, written in 1969, outlawed abortion with few exceptions. Those exceptions – rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person – required the pregnant person to appeal to a hospital board created especially for such purpose. Providing an abortion without hospital approval, under the old law, was a fourth-degree felony.
The antiquated law, more than 50 years old, did not reflect modern medical procedures. The vast majority of abortions now take place at abortion clinics.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled her support for the bill by putting it on her call for the 2021 Legislature and both House and Senate Democrats fast tracked the bill. At one point there were two identical versions, one from the House sponsored by House Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla and one from the Senate. Having two mirror bills enabled the Legislature to move swiftly with passing the legislation through both House and Senate committees and the chamber floors. In a year when the Legislature passed multiple pieces of progressive legislation – the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and the Paid Sick Leave Act both passed, among others – the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act passed first. By February 26, about three weeks before the end of the legislature, Lujan Grisham signed it into law.
Reproductive rights advocates cheered when the bill became law and called it a victory. As abortion rights in other states continue to be threatened by bills such as Texas SB 8, which bans abortion after six-weeks gestation, and the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Mississippi 15-week gestation that clearly defies Roe v. Wade, reproductive health advocates and experts see New Mexico as one of the states where abortion will remain legal and safe.
The bill faced considerable opposition from House and Senate Republicans, who attempted to amend the bill in various ways. Democrats in the House and Senate tried to pass a similar bill in the 2019 Legislature but eight state Senate Democrats voted with Republicans against it and it failed to pass. One of those state Senators passed away but of the other seven, nearly all lost their primary bid to pro-abortion, progressive Democrats. Only state Sens. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and George Muñoz, D-Gallup, remained in the 2021 Legislature of the original eight. Both Campos and Muñoz voted against SB 10, along with all the state Senator Republicans, as well.