June 16, 2023

Two reproductive healthcare laws go into effect today

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

Two bills that will strengthen New Mexico’s protections for reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare in New Mexico became law on Friday.

HB 7 and SB 13 both passed the 2023 legislature and were signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham this year. HB 7, Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act, prohibits discrimination against individuals seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare. SB 13, Reproductive Health Provider Protections Act, is also commonly referred to as the shield law because it shields providers and patients from civil or criminal liability for abortion or gender-affirming care in New Mexico. It further shields reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare providers by prohibiting licensing boards in their specialties from discrimination.

State Rep. Linda Serrato, of Santa Fe, was the lead sponsor of the healthcare anti-discrimination law and state Sen. Linda Lopez, of Albuquerque, was the lead sponsor of the shield law. Both are Democrats.

Both Lopez and Serrato said they are proud of these bills and of shepherding them through the legislature. 

Serrato talked about the experience of getting the bill through.

“You work on it for so long, the entire experience, the long fight to get to where we were, it finally feels it’s being completed. It’s a really exciting feeling to see it come to fruition,” she said. 

Lopez said the shield law “is so needed.”

“It’s a very important bill. Especially because of the laws passed by our neighboring states,” she said.

Texas and Oklahoma have banned abortion. Arizona banned it after 15 weeks. That law is being challenged in the courts and is not in effect, but Arizona has some TRAP [Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers] laws in effect that impose barriers to care. Abortion is legal in Colorado.

The reproductive rights research group Guttmacher Institute ranks New Mexico as “very protective” of abortion and it is one of only four additional states that carry that ranking. Only Oregon is designated as having more protective laws for abortion, according to the ranking. Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said she agrees and that the state has “a long history of strong nondiscrimination policies, strong civil rights and civil liberties, particularly when it comes to abortion and gender-affirming healthcare.”

But, she said the legislation was the result of decades of work. 

HB 7 and SB 13 are two of several other bills that become law on Friday that intersect with the rights of bodily autonomy and civil liberties. [For the list, see below.] Rushforth said the collection of bills in this area becoming law is a “culture shift and an understanding that everybody deserves the tools to engage in society as a whole person.”

“Whether the piece of legislation is to support young girls and women going to school and access menstrual products so they can stay in class or protects students from discrimination. These are not small bills. It was a really incredible effort and shows the role public policy can play in improving people’s lives and participate in society,” Rushforth said.  

The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act comes into law at a time when small communities around New Mexico are continuing to consider anti-abortion ordinances that carry penalties for abortion medication sent through the mail.  Attorney General Raúl Torrez sued and later asked the state Supreme Court to consider those ordinances in light of the passage of the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act. Those questions are still pending with the court.

“The Legislature has declared that no branch of government has the power to interfere with a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body. Their commitment to safeguarding equal rights for women is admirable and I intend to use every available resource to ensure that this right – as enacted by the people’s representatives – is protected in every corner of this state,” Torrez told NM Political Report via email.

Shortly after the legislature ended in March, the town of Edgewood voted in favor of an anti-abortion ordinance which created what some call a bounty scheme, allowing residents to sue for civil liability if they believe abortion medication is mailed to an Edgewood resident. Adrian Chavez Sr., a concerned Edgewood resident who is part of an effort to recall that ordinance, told NM Political Report that the ordinance has caused friction in the community.

“It has rubbed people the wrong way,” he said. 

The Edgewood Clerk Nina McCracken reported this week during an Edgewood city council meeting that the recall effort turned in 429 signatures. She verified 318 and rejected 111 signatures that were not verifiable. But the 318 signatures are enough to require the city commission to put the ordinance up to a vote to the residents of Edgewood. The city commission set the date for the city residents to vote through a mail-in ballot, which will go out to residents in July and will be due by August 22. The cost for the special election is $36,121, McCracken said. 

There has also been an effort to kill the two reproductive healthcare bills, as well as a handful of others, including codifying School-Based Health Centers into law. Lopez said the School-Based Health Centers provide necessary healthcare information that individuals have a right to and their role in providing healthcare to schools and some communities is crucial. 

The Secretary of State and the New Mexico Attorney General both concluded the referendum was invalid. 

Related:  SOS: The petitions seeking to repeal laws are not legitimate, first of several cases about it dismissed

The shield law will codify Lujan Grisham’s first reproductive rights executive order and ensure that it will remain law in New Mexico regardless of who replaces Lujan Grisham after she terms out in 2026. 

“The governor will continue to be a staunch advocate for reproductive rights and abortion access in New Mexico,” governor’s spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said through an email.

Lopez said that during conversations this past year, she heard from health professionals, especially obstetrics and gynecological providers who said the laws in Texas and other states that have banned abortion have a “chilling effect” because those states criminalize abortion care providers. 

“For those in New Mexico, if we have someone that needs abortion care services or gender-affirming care, we want our healthcare providers to not feel intimidated, to not be worried to do their job to provide healthcare services,” Lopez said. 

Lopez called the shield law “unique.”

“If someone comes here [from a restrictive state] to access abortion care services or gender-affirming care services, it protects their healthcare record. That’s always important because that’s the information that is personal,” Lopez said.

Serrato said both of these laws are “just really making sure we have the right to healthcare.”

“For so many pregnant people, trans people, this means better long-term outcomes. On Friday, we’ll see a lot more people breathe a sigh of relief this is law. This is the right direction for our state and where we want to be,” Serrato said. 

*Other reproductive justice laws that go into effect on Friday are:

HB 27, Breast Exam Health Coverage, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, eliminates cost sharing for individuals with health insurance for diagnostic and supplemental breast examinations.

HB 31, No Publication Required for a Name Change, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, eliminates an antiquated law that required individuals changing their name to publish it in a local newspaper.

HB 134 Menstrual Products in the Schools, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, requires free menstrual products to be available in all public schools in New Mexico.

HB 207, Expand Human Rights Act, sponsored by state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, updates language in the New Mexico Human Rights Act and prohibits public bodies from discrimination.

SB 64 No Life Sentence for Juveniles, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, allows for individuals sentenced as adults for violent crimes committed as children the opportunity for a parole hearing after 15 years in some instances.

SB 132 STI Prevention and Treatment, sponsored by state Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, eliminates cost sharing for STI prevention and treatment for individuals with health insurance. 
SB 397 School Based Health Centers, sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, codifies the health centers into law.