With a Supreme Court decision expected this summer on the Mississippi anti-abortion law most court watchers believe will overturn or gut protections granted by Roe v. Wade, Democrats and Republicans could find abortion playing a large role in the upcoming race for U.S. House representation in southern New Mexico.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver its decision on Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health. Mississippi passed a law in 2018 that outlawed abortion after 15 weeks. The one abortion provider in the state offers abortion up to 16 weeks. The law is not currently in effect in Mississippi because the lower courts struck it down as unconstitutional, but Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to hear the state’s appeal.
Supreme Court watchers and reproductive healthcare legal experts believe the court is likely to overturn the landmark 1973 decision this summer when it rules on the case. The state of Mississippi asked the court to overturn Roe v. Wade and though the Supreme Court rarely overturns legal precedent, the six-conservative justice majority on the bench has left little hope for reproductive rights supporters of an alternative outcome. The questions several of the conservative justices asked during oral argument also left little doubt of which direction the court is leaning.
This could have devastating repercussions for reproductive health as several states have “trigger” laws in place to reduce or ban abortion altogether if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
In addition, with newly drawn district lines, Democrats see an opportunity to try to pick up the Second Congressional District seat in November. U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, who is in her first term as a member of Congress, is a staunch anti-abortion Republican. Herrell comments frequently about her anti-abortion position on social media.
She also represents the area of New Mexico that shares a border with Texas, which passed a highly criticized anti-abortion law last year. The law makes abortion illegal in that state after six weeks through an enforcement mechanism that many abortion advocates call a “bounty hunter” scheme. Herrell has championed that law on social media.
Herrell doesn’t face a contest in the upcoming primary, but there are two Democrats, former Las Cruces City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez and Hobbs resident Dr. Darshan Patel, who will face off in the Democratic primary June 7.
Both Patel and Vasquez told NM Political Report that they support reproductive rights. Patel said that his philosophy is connected to his profession as a family physician.
“I support reproductive healthcare and as a doctor I know reproductive healthcare is essential healthcare and we need to ensure access so women who become pregnant have access to comprehensive healthcare and contraception, abortion care and prenatal care,” Patel said.
Vasquez also said reproductive healthcare is important.
“Each of us should have the freedom to decide when and how to grow our families. It’s incredibly important to respect individual decisions and protect the freedom to decide,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said he chose to run because, as a first-generation American, he wants to “make a difference.” He spoke about his grandfather owning and operating his own TV repair shop in Ciudad Juárez while raising 10 children.
“I want to make sure everybody has those opportunities our family had. Too many lack those opportunities,” he said.
Patel said he decided to enter the race because, as a doctor in the middle of the Omicron variant surge of COVID-19, he “couldn’t continue to stand idly by while New Mexicans are dying of a preventable disease.”
“I see what access to quality care, what that looks like in people’s lives,” he said and added that after treating patients through the surges of COVID-19 for the past two years “I felt like I have a perspective and background that could bring a set of skills valuable for New Mexico for change and solve everyday problems for New Mexico,” he said.
Patel said that he differs from Vasquez in that, being a family physician in Lea County and, prior, a medical resident at Indian Health Services, he has seen the difficulties rural pregnant individuals have when struggling to obtain an abortion.
“I’m a rural physician working in Lea County and Hobbs and I know the challenges people have when it comes to healthcare, driving miles and miles for access to care,” Patel said.
When asked how the two Democrats differ on the issue, Vasquez focused instead on Herrell’s anti-abortion position and added that if elected, he plans to take a “proactive stance in Congress” on pro-abortion legislation.
“What I do know is Rep. Herrell is out of touch. She sought to control abortion care and criminalize doctors. These decisions are not political ones, they are deeply personal. It should never be up to me or anyone in Congress,” he said.
A Herrell campaign spokesperson defended Herrell’s position:
“As radical Democrats move further and further to the left on this issue, Rep. Herrell will continue to be a consistent and proud pro-life voice in Congress.”
Vasquez said that he is both Latino and Roman Catholic and he “knows where folks are coming from whether pro-choice or anti-choice.” He added that in a rural population, there is “more diversity of opinion” on abortion and that he knows that people “have strong opinions on both sides of this issue.”
“I completely get it. The right thing to do is ensure we have a choice when it comes to reproductive access,” Vasquez said.
Patel referred to the high maternal mortality rates in the U.S., particularly for women of color, as one of the reasons why abortion access is important and said he believes abortion will come up in any election.
“I expect this to be an issue and as a healthcare worker and family physician I can speak to why it matters to women to have comprehensive reproductive healthcare. They should make the decision about when to start a family,” Patel said.
Vasquez said he believes abortion will play a role in the upcoming race.
“It definitely will play a role in this race. Herrell cheered on the Texas abortion ban and now New Mexico has become a lifeline for desperate Texas women,” he said.
As of yet, Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico has not announced an endorsement for this race, Neta Meltzer, a spokesperson for the organization, said.
When the state redistricted in late last year, the lines of New Mexico’s Second Congressional District changed. The northern border of the district now includes Albuquerque’s South Valley, the west side of Albuquerque and an area southwest of the downtown in addition to the city of Las Cruces, which is New Mexico’s second largest city.
This combination makes the district, which still stretches east and west from the Texas state line to the Arizona one, overall less rural than it was previously, a point of contention for Republicans.
Republicans have held the seat since 2011’s redistricting with one exception, Democrat and former U.S. House Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. She won in 2018. When Herrell ran against Torres Small in 2020, the race became one of the most expensive House races in the U.S.
But now with redistricting, Democrats hold a 13.2 point registration advantage over Republicans and it is now the district with the largest Hispanic population in the state, according to Democratic advocates.
Democrats consider the Second Congressional District as a race that’s “in play.” Maddy Mundy, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson, called Herrell “an enemy to safe abortion access.”
“She cheered Texas’ devastating abortion ban and now, New Mexico is a lifeline for desperate Texas women seeking the health care they need. New Mexico voters understand what’s at stake and will kick Yvette Herrell and her radical agenda out of office and elect Democrats like Gabe Vasquez, who will protect this fundamental right in Congress,” she said through an email.