When the New Mexico Legislature passed the 1969 law on abortion, it was the least restrictive version of the state’s previous abortion laws, but one advocates say would be too restrictive if it goes back into effect. Since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, and President Trump’s nominee of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, there is a heightened concern that Roe v. Wade could be overturned in the immediate future. If that happens before the state’s 1969 abortion law is repealed, the state could turn back the clock to the 51-year-old law. An attempt to repeal the 1969 law failed in the state Senate in 2019. Related: Senate rejects repealing currently unenforceable anti-abortion law
If it were to become the state’s law, enforcement would be a matter for each individual district attorney’s office, said Matt Baca, chief counsel for the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas.
The first reproductive rights test for the U.S. Supreme Court since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death will likely be the court battle over whether people should be able to access the medication mifepristone for abortion through telehealth. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requested the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a lower court’s decision to enable women to receive mifepristone through telehealth during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, people had to travel—in some cases hundreds of miles—to a clinic to receive the medication. But, patients do not have to take the medication at the clinic. They can return home to take it in the privacy of their homes.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other partners sought—and received—a preliminary injunction this summer from a Maryland judge barring the FDA from enforcing its in-person requirement to receive mifepristone.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion rights Monday and struck down a Louisiana law in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, but the “win” could be short-lived, say abortion rights advocates. The 5-4 decision brought an end to the legal battle over whether Louisiana’s 2014 law, that forced abortion providers in that state to obtain admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, is constitutional. The court, through Justice Stephen Breyer’s opinion, noted that the Louisiana law poses a “substantial obstacle,” to women seeking abortion, offered no significant health-related benefits nor showed evidence of how the law would improve the health and safety of women. But, Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the more liberal wing of the court, wrote a concurrence in which he made clear he only voted in favor of June Medical Services because of precedent. The court decided an almost identical case involving a Texas Law four years ago with Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make major reproductive health care decisions early next week. Monday and Tuesday will be the final two days this term that the justices will issue opinions, according to the Supreme Court’s blog. Historically, the court has handed down decisions on abortion on the last day of the session, Nancy Northup, executive director of the Center for Reproductive Rights said last month. But in this case, the court has two reproductive health care decisions to rule upon in the final days of the session. The two cases are June Medical Services LLC v. Russo and Trump v. Pennsylvania.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people are seeking abortion through telemedicine than ever before in New Mexico. Though the numbers are still small, the increase is significant, according to Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). Meltzer wrote in an email that prior to the public health emergency, PPRM enrolled 10 patients from New Mexico into the study over the course of about a year. But in March of 2020 alone, the nonprofit screened 14 patients who were interested, and enrolled eight in that month. “The need for abortion care does not disappear in the midst of a global pandemic,” Meltzer wrote.
With the coronavirus pandemic worsening — the state announced 40 new positive tests of COVID-19 Thursday and an additional death — access to abortion care gets increasingly complicated.
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports reproductive health care, has allowed abortion clinics to remain open in New Mexico during the public health emergency. But abortion access has become more challenging in many areas of the country and that affects New Mexico, according to advocates.
With delays in reproductive health care already taking place, officials with American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said it could get worse as the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues. Ellie Rushforth, a reproductive rights attorney for ACLU-NM, sent letters to elected officials Monday urging them to ensure reproductive health care will remain accessible during the public health emergency. The letters, to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, congressional officials and the mayors of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, ask that they consider abortion care, all forms of birth control; STI screening, testing, and treatment; vaginal health and treatment; prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care as essential reproductive services that need to remain accessible. The letters outline immediate steps, including that reproductive health care clinics and outpatient abortion providers be considered, “essential business.”
Lujan Grisham announced a stay-at-home order Monday in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. As of Monday, March 23, the state has 83 test positive cases, with 18 new ones.
When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report.
When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.
A couple of hundred abortion rights activists gathered in Albuquerque Tuesday as part of nationwide “Stop the Bans” protests. Ellie Rushforth, the ACLU of New Mexico Reproductive Rights Attorney, told the crowd, “We must keep fighting because our lives depend on it.”
The crowd then marched through downtown Albuquerque, holding signs and chanting slogans in support of abortion access. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is running for U.S. Senate, attended the rally. “I’m still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Senate put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement. “I can’t help but think that if more women were serving in the U.S. Senate, the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearings would have been very different.”
Representatives for members of the New Mexico congressional delegation also attended.
Eight Senate Democrats joined with Republicans Thursday evening to defeat a measure that would have removed a currently non-enforceable ban on abortion. State Representatives Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored House Bill 51. which would repeal a 1969 state law which made both performing and receiving an abortion fourth-degree felonies, except with special permissions. The law is currently unenforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which federally recognized the right to have an abortion. “We’re terribly disappointed,” Ferrary said.