Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, straining fragile reproductive health care system

The U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade or “effectively” overturn it, legal experts said on Wednesday after the court heard oral arguments on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The much-anticipated court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, went before the court Wednesday for a two-hour oral argument. The state of Mississippi banned abortion at 15 weeks in 2019 and asked the court specifically to overturn the 1973 landmark decision. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said that, after listening to the court Wednesday morning, it seemed clear that the justices, “regardless of the arguments presented by the attorneys today are pretty well settled in their minds on this issue.”

Six of the nine justices are conservative and several have spoken explicitly or made previous rulings indicating that they oppose abortion. “It was pretty clear by the questions the justices asked and the way they were talking to one another that we don’t have the size necessary to uphold Roe as it stands today,” Rushforth said.

Advocates: SCOTUS decision emphasizes need for more LGBTQ protections

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia is not likely to a impact the New Mexico LGBTQ community, legal experts and advocates have said. Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia asked the Supreme Court to decide if Catholic Social Services (CSS) could continue its contract with that city to help find foster families even though the city said it couldn’t because CSS discriminates against same sex couples in its fostering application. The Supreme Court heard the case last fall and when the U.S. Congress was considering Justice Amy Coney Barrett for nomination to the bench, members of the LGBTQ community in New Mexico worried that a more conservative bench could overturn precedent and allow discrimination, which in turn could have a ripple effect in New Mexico. Related: U.S. Supreme Court could roll back LGBTQ equality

But, Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the court’s decision in June was so narrow it would only apply to this particular case wouldn’t likely have an impact in New Mexico. “I disagree with the finding but what the court said is, because the city contract contained a mechanism for offering individual discretion to the agencies, the court held the city could not refuse to extend the contract to Catholic Social Services,” she said.

The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade next year when it hears the case involving a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, New Mexico could face a fight and increased harassment at clinics, according to reproductive rights experts. The U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this week it will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, regarding the Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks with few exceptions. The state of Mississippi asked the court to decide on whether all pre-viability bans on abortion violate the Constitution. The court’s decision is expected to come down in 2022 before the mid-term general election. New Mexico, which was one of very few states to pass pro-abortion rights legislation this year, will feel the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision regardless of how the court decides the Mississippi case, according to reproductive health advocates.

Lawsuit against alleges civil rights violations by private prison company, Torrance County

Nine migrants who were detained in Torrance County Detention Facility and a nonprofit called the Santa Fe Dreamers Project are suing the operator of the facility and Torrance County for an alleged incident when guards pepper sprayed the detainees to disrupt a hunger strike last year. The nine individual plaintiffs are asylum seekers, mostly from Cuba and Guatemala. They engaged in a peaceful hunger strike in May 2020 to protest their living conditions, find out more information about their immigrant status and to protest the lack of COVID-19 precautions at the facility, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, violated the individual plaintiffs’ rights to be free from excessive or arbitrary force when the guards sprayed the migrants in a small enclosed space with pepper spray a few days after the migrants began their hunger strike. The lawsuit also alleges Torrance County failed in its duty to care for the people detained in the facility.

Inhumane conditions and alleged sexual assault at NM women’s prisons

Many incarcerated women, often already traumatized from gender violence, potentially face re-traumatization once imprisoned in New Mexico through inhumane conditions and sexual assault, according to attorneys. Lalita Moskowitz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the inhumane conditions run the gamut in New Mexico prisons—from infestations of rodents and freezing conditions at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility outside of Grants to infrastructure that is “completely falling apart” and inadequate reproductive health care at Springer Correctional Center in the small northern town of Springer. She said the two New Mexico women’s correctional facilities are “some of the oldest (correctional) buildings in the state.”

There have also been numerous sexual assault allegations at both facilities, Moskowitz said, and several sexual assault lawsuits. Steve Allen, director of the nonprofit New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, called the sexual abuse at Springer, “systemic.”

Many of the women housed in New Mexico’s correctional facilities are nonviolent offenders. Allen said that many women who are housed in WNMCF, which is a medium-level security facility, are “overclassified,” which means the inmates are put into a higher security prison than they need to be.

Children sentenced as adults are disproportionately children of color

When Carissa McGee was 16 years old, she was sentenced to 21 years in an adult correctional facility for stabbing two members of her family. McGee told NM Political Report she was mentally ill at the time, but the judge still sentenced her to more than two decades in prison. “I experienced my ultimate low. I was sentenced at 16 years old. I didn’t know what 21 years would feel like,” McGee said.

Citing millions in waste, ACLU calls for closure of 39 ICE facilities, including Otero County Processing Center

Citing $1 million a day of wasted federal dollars, the American Civil Liberties Union called on President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday to close 39 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities across the U.S., including the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral. The federal government has been paying for the empty bed spaces at these facilities, almost all run by privately-owned companies, which the ACLU called “wasting” taxpayer money. The ACLU established a criteria for the 39 facilities it is calling on the federal government to close. In its statement, issued Wednesday, the ACLU said that Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) was included because of its “extensive record of civil rights violations and inhumane treatment.”

The letter, sent to The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urged the secretary to announce his intention to close ICE detention facilities across the country. “With lower ICE arrest rates and already reduced levels of detention arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE is currently paying to maintain thousands of empty beds at enormous taxpayer expense—wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better spent on alternatives to detention and other programmatic priorities,” the letter states.

FDA reverses decision on abortion medication mifepristone

After a year of legal fighting over mifepristone, the Food and Drug Administration has reversed itself, allowing the abortion medication to be prescribed during the COVID-19 pandemic through telehealth. The FDA, under the Donald Trump administration, would not allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telehealth, citing safety concerns, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of 20-year-old regulations around mifepristone, patients are normally required to travel to a clinic to pick up the pill. But, the pill can be safely taken at home. In the spring of 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the FDA on behalf of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Reversal of Trump gag rule on Title X funding proposed by the Biden administration

This week, the Joe Biden administration proposed to reverse a Donald Trump administration gag rule that affects how some family planning clinics provide abortion care information. Title X is a federal grant program that enables clinics to offer family planning services and preventive reproductive health care, primarily to low-income families who are uninsured or underinsured. New Mexico Department of Health family planning clinics, which receive Title X funding, provide contraception methods and related preventive health services including pre-conception health, sexually transmitted disease prevention education, screening, treatment and breast and cervical cancer screening, NMDOH spokesperson Jim Walton told NM Political Report by email. There are DOH family planning clinics in every county except Catron and Harding counties. Bernalillo County has 16 such clinics, Santa Fe County has seven, Doña Ana County has four and Rio Arriba County has three. 

There are 20 clinic sites that contract with DOH to provide family planning services, including nine school-based health centers.

Guv signs New Mexico Civil Rights Act into law, ends qualified immunity

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense, into law on Wednesday. Advocates have said the law will bring greater equity to New Mexico as it also enables individuals whose state constitutional rights have been violated to bring a civil suit seeking financial remedy. The new law caps the remedy at $2 million and no case can be brought over an incident that occurred before the start date – July 1, 2021 – of the new law. Recoverability of attorney’s fees is possible but subject to the court’s discretion. The original bill, HB 4, came out of recommendations made in a report written by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission in late 2020.