February 9, 2023

Reproductive access bill heads to House Chamber next

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care bill with two amendments by a party line vote of 7 to 4.

HB 7 will, if enacted, ensure that all individuals in the state can access reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care and that if an individual is discriminated against in seeking that care, the individual can seek legal remedy. Rep. Linda Serrato, a Democrat from Santa Fe, sponsored the bill and has said frequently that the bill will, if enacted, prevent a patchwork of healthcare across the state.

The cities of Clovis and Hobbs and Lea and Roosevelt counties have passed anti-abortion ordinances that impact abortion clinics’ ability to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion.

Clovis Mayor Mike Morris spoke during public comment on the bill and said the bill “takes away home rule.”

He asked that the committee, if unable to vote no on the bill, “preserve our local authority to reflect the values of the citizens,” he said.

But Krista Pietsch, a Portales resident, which is within Roosevelt County, told a personal story during public comment about abortion care. She said she had to drive nearly 500 miles to access care but called herself “very fortunate,” because she had support.

All four Republicans on the committee voted against the bill after a two and a half hour debate. The Republicans on the committee asked similar questions to the ones Republicans asked during the House Health and Human Services Committee hearing last week. Mostly the questions were about the scope of the bill.  

State Rep. Greg Nibert, a Republican from Roswell, asked at what age a minor can go to a medical provider to get services without consent.

Committee Chair Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Albuquerque, asked Nibert “how does this tie into the bill?”

Nibert said he was following up on his previous question and that he didn’t know the answer.

One of Serrato’s expert witnesses, a University of New Mexico Health Science Center professor, Dr. Molly Mcclain, said that in her five years of practice in New Mexico as a gender-affirming physician, she has never treated a child alone.

“The way it works, in my experience, families come to my clinic. Youth never come by themselves. They make a decision, I’m their medical advisor. Oftentimes the family wants time and therapy in making the decision, and I wholeheartedly support that,” Mcclain said.

State Rep. Andrea Reeb, a Republican from Clovis, asked if a community wants to make its own laws, if the bill would “take that ability out of their hands.”

Serrato said it’s “important New Mexicans know what rights and access they do have.”

“We want people to feel confident they can get healthcare without the additional burden of fear,” she said.

Serrato, during her presentation, amended the bill before committee to clean up some language, ensure that agents are acting on behalf of a public body, and that any moral concerns a provider might have are not violated and they have all the protections already in existing statute to prevent providers from having to provide care they object to performing.

House Minority Leader T. Ryan Lane, a Republican from Aztec, questioned how the bill fits with existing statute.

“You made a vague statute even more vague,” he said.

The amendment passed by party line vote of 6-4 with all Republicans in the committee opposed. During the discussion of the amended bill, State Rep. William Rehm, a Republican from Albuquerque, introduced an amendment to change the word “shall” to “may” with regard to attorney’s fees in civil suits.

The bill allows legal remedy in the form of an individual who feels discriminated against in accessing reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare can seek civil suit for monetary awards, including attorney fees and costs.

Rehm asked if attorneys fees are a part of the remedy, if that should not be a matter for the court to decide. He said that the committee has, in the past, followed the practice of changing similar wording.

“Are we going to follow that past practice or leave it ‘shall?’” Rehm asked.

Chandler advised Rehm to make a motion for an amendment but Serrato called the proposed amendment “unfriendly.”

“This bill came from the community,” Serrato said. “Those most impacted by healthcare access do not have funding for court fees and could not bring a suit forth.”

The amendment was tabled by a vote of 7 to 4, which also fell along party lines.

State Rep. Gail Chasey, a Democrat from Albuquerque, also brought forth an amendment, one that Serrato considered “friendly.”

Chasey’s amendment clarified that if a civil suit arises, it could only do so against the public body, not against an individual.

That amendment received bipartisan support with an 11-0 vote.

The bill now heads to the House floor.