March 2, 2023

Bill to protect reproductive, gender-affirming care access advances

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill to prohibit public bodies from discriminating against reproductive healthcare or gender-affirming health care passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee by 6-to-3 party line vote on Wednesday.

HB 7, Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare, is sponsored by state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Albuquerque. The bill would enable the attorney general or a district attorney to sue an entity responsible for blocking access to reproductive health or gender-affirming care. 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.

Lea and Roosevelt counties and the cities of Clovis and Hobbs each passed abortion ordinances the ability of clinics that provide abortion to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion.

Serrato said the bill is “about public bodies.”

“This is ensuring public bodies do not discriminate against a person seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare,” she said.

State Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, questioned the science behind gender-affirming healthcare. He said Sweden and France have questioned and cautioned against gender-affirming healthcare.

“We’re not set up to be a scientific body,” Schmedes said.

Expert witness Dr. Mollie McClain, a doctor at University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, said the French standard of gender-affirming healthcare “aligns very closely with mine.”

She said that in the case of Sweden, the state “got in the way of the family making decisions.” She said the Swedish studies Schmedes referred to appeared in Swedish-language journals.

“The paper didn’t rise to the bar of an English-language journal. English being the lingua franca of the day, it’s not the highest evidence,” she said.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, interjected into Schmedes’ line of questions and asked McClain if anything in the bill would force her to change how she practices.

“Not at all,” McClain said.

State Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, asked questions about the federal Comstock Act as well as the ability for municipalities’ capacity to govern themselves under home rule.

Expert witness Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the ordinances that both Clovis and Hobbs passed base the language on a federal act “they have no authority to enforce under the state constitution.”

“Even home rule municipalities cannot violate the state constitution,” Rushforth said.

State Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, tried to introduce an amendment at the start of the hearing on behalf of state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who was not present at the time. But due to some confusion over what Sedillo Lopez intended, the committee proceeded on the bill as it is currently written. Ortiz y Pino said Sedillo Lopez could amend the bill in the next committee hearing.

Republicans attempted to table the bill but that failed by a party line vote of 6-to-3.

The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.