February 22, 2023

Bill to protect reproductive, gender-affirming healthcare passes House

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill that would prohibit discrimination in reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming healthcare passed the House by a 38 to 31 vote on Tuesday evening.

HB 7, Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare, will, if enacted, prohibit municipalities and counties from passing ordinances that directly or indirectly discriminate against either reproductive and gender-affirming care. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe.

The bill seeks to enable the attorney general or district attorneys to sue an entity responsible for a violation. The court could apply remedies, including monetary damages. The court can also apply a $5,000 civil penalty or actual damages against the entity responsible for the discrimination.

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.

Serrato said in her opening remarks that “our state remains a place where we can make complex decisions with doctors.” 

State Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, a bill cosponsor, said 80 percent of transgender individuals consider suicide because of the stigma and shame.

Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, also a bill cosponsor, said the bill will, if enacted, “prevent any criminalization of providers at the local level.” 

“I can’t imagine a more chilling effect,” she said. 

Republicans tried to amend the bill on the House floor multiple times. Minority Floor Leader T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, introduced two amendments. The first amendment would have limited HB 7 to only apply to an emancipated minor or individuals 18 years or older. Lane expressed concern about children disclosing a desire for pharmaceutical gender-affirming care or a 10 year-old girl needing an abortion and confiding in a teacher rather than a parent. That amendment failed 44 to 23.

Serrato said it was an unfriendly amendment and that teachers are already expected to report a crime or talk to the child’s parents. She added that it is “important to acknowledge children are people as well.”

Lane’s second attempted amendment would have inserted conscientious objection for abortion care for teachers. That amendment failed 43 to 24. Serrato said it was an unfriendly amendment and that it would prevent individuals from getting the healthcare they need.

State Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, tried to amend the bill to require parental consent if a child under the age of 18 seeks an abortion or gender-affirming care. Serrato said that was also an unfriendly amendment because research shows that “efforts to enforce parental notification often has the opposite effect” and said that being able to access care can reduce drug usage and be “life saving.”

“This bill primarily deals with discrimination, so this would be logrolling,” Serrato said. Logrolling refers to when a bill attempts to address multiple topics within one piece of legislation.

That amendment failed 44 to 25.

State Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, tried to amend the bill to include language that would require standards of care for abortion to be applied to “surgical clinics, maintain the same level of medical malpractice insurance as clinics that provide obstetrics and gynecology, that abortion facilities would have to employ emergency care staff and equipment on site or admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that an abortion clinic will provide 24-hour medical care.”

Serrato called that amendment unfriendly and said that abortion clinics are highly regulated, like all standards of care.

That amendment failed 44 to 23.

State Rep. Randall Pettigrew, R-Clovis, asked if firefighters would be vulnerable under this bill. Serrato emphasized that under this bill, no one’s scope of work would change.

State Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, asked if the bill is enacted, “do you think it will save a New Mexico kid’s life?”

Serrato said “100 percent.” Serrato said gender-affirming care can include things such as using the correct pronouns and a person’s correct name.

“It will save lives in our state,” she said about the bill

State Rep. Charlotte Little, D-Albuquerque, asked Serrato to explain hormone therapy as healthcare. Little is also a co-sponsor on the bill.

Serrato said individuals use hormone therapy “for everything,” and then named off examples such as some forms of birth control and menopausal medicines.

State Rep. Janelle Anyanonu, D-Albuquerque, who is also a cosponsor on the bill, asked about how a lack of access to reproductive healthcare can harm women of color in particular.

“I’ve seen from national statistics, women of color are disproportionately affected medically, women of color have much higher rates of maternal mortality and…Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth,” she said.

Serrato said women who are low income are also disproportionately affected.

The House Judiciary Committee amended the bill last week to clean up some language to ensure that agents are acting on behalf of a public body, that any moral concerns a provider might have are not violated and that they have all the protections already in existing statute to prevent providers from having to provide care they object to performing. The committee also amended the bill to clarify that if a civil suit arises, it could only do so against the public body, not against an individual.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

Updated: This story previously misidentified state Rep. Nathan Small. That has been corrected.