Can anti-abortion state laws affect New Mexicans?

Two states are considering laws – one that supports abortion rights and one that doesn’t – that attempt to reach out of their states’ jurisdictions. One bill, California’s AB 1666, protects Californians from Texas SB 8 and other copycat state laws prohibiting “aiding or abetting” an abortion in states where abortion is banned or restricted, such as Texas. The legislation seeks to explicitly protect Californians from Texas’ legal scheme, which enables anyone to sue those who help a Texas individual to obtain an abortion after six weeks of gestation. If passed, one possible way the bill could be applied would be if an entity or individual sued a California individual who made a donation to a Texas fundraising organization that helped a Texas abortion patient go out of state for their reproductive healthcare. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said that so far, the Texas SB 8 law has not been “weaponized” in that way.

CDC announces Trump-era policy prohibiting legal border crossing to end 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the federal government will end the Trump-era policy that has prevented asylum seekers from entering the U.S.

The policy will end May 23. The Trump administration initiated Title 42 in the first few days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The policy prohibited undocumented individuals from entering the U.S. through a port of entry. At the time, Trump cited the spread of the respiratory disease as a reason to establish the policy but critics quickly condemned the action as racist and inflammatory. The Biden administration, which ran on eliminating or reversing many Trump-era policies, kept Title 42 in place after entering office, despite widespread criticism from immigrant advocacy groups.

New government report details reportedly unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Torrance County Detention Facility

The federal Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Inspector General issued an alert this week to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to recommend that all individuals housed at the Torrance County Detention Facility be relocated due to reportedly unsanitary and unsafe conditions. The 19-page report issued on Wednesday detailed conditions that include a broken toilet containing human waste in a vacant cell in an occupied housing unit, as well as staffing shortages, a lack of hot water access and other issues. Several nonprofit organizations that advocate for the rights of detainees called on ICE to release the individuals housed at Torrance County Detention Facility. The Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation also issued a press release late Friday condemning the “inhumane” conditions and called on President Joe Biden to “act swiftly” to address the reported unsafe conditions. “ICE should no longer defend the inhumane living conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility.

U.S. Supreme Court in ruling against abortion access in Kentucky could lead to bigger repercussions, say legal experts

A U.S. Supreme Court decision this week on an abortion issue has larger repercussions for constitutional rights, advocates say. In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled in favor of allowing Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to readdress a Kentucky abortion ban already resolved under Democrat Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s administration. A Kentucky bill prohibiting medical professionals from performing surgical abortion became law under a Repbulican administration. But under a new Democratic administration, the state of Kentucky dropped the appeal process in 2019 and the law, declared unconstitutional by a lower court, did not go into effect. Cameron, who had not been a part of the original lawsuit, then asked to appeal the lower court’s decision that the Kentucky law is unconstitutional.

State prisons outsource personal mail to inmates to Florida firm, causing concern for some

For Jessica Brown, whose husband Michael is an inmate at Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton, sending letters to her spouse is one of the primary ways she communicates with him. But starting Feb. 1, Jessica will have to send letters to her husband to a private corporation in Florida called Securus Technologies. There, Jessica’s letters will be opened and photocopied. Her husband, Michael, will be able to receive only the photocopied version. 

New Mexico Department of Corrections notified inmates and their families of the change late last month.

Called ‘a victory’ by advocates, FDA lifts restrictions on abortion medication

The Federal Drug Administration ruled on Thursday that it would permanently lift restrictions around abortion patients receiving medication abortion by mail. This means, for instance, that abortion patients who live in places such as rural New Mexico can receive mifepristone, the first of the two-drug abortion regime, by mail. The FDA has maintained a restriction on in-person pickup of mifepristone at a clinic since the agency approved the drug for abortion 21 years ago. Reproductive experts have said that was a political move as, after 21 years, there were clear indications that taking medication abortion up to 10 weeks of gestation is safe. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said by text message that the FDA’s decision is “good news” for patients but some restrictions for clinics still apply.

Language, tactics used by anti-abortion movement called misinformation

The Texas law, SB 8, that bans abortion after six weeks in that state, is called “the Texas Heartbeat Act.”

But there is no heart within the pregnant person’s womb at six weeks after conception, according to health experts. At roughly six weeks, a current of electrical activity begins in a cellular cluster. Abortion rights proponents argue that that is just one way that anti-abortion rhetoric supplies misinformation and disinformation. Anti-abortion groups also coopt the language of social justice movements, including the reproductive rights movement, reproductive rights advocates have said. Adriann Barboa, policy director for the nonprofit organization Forward Together, said some who oppose coronavirus vaccinations and mask mandates use phrases such as, “my body, my choice,” when arguing against getting vaccinated or wearing masks to protect against COVID-19.

U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on Texas anti-abortion law

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday morning for two cases related to the Texas law that bans abortion at six-weeks of gestation. The arguments presented procedural questions about whether or not a group of providers and advocates called Whole Women’s Health Coalition and the U.S. Department of Justice can bring separate lawsuits because the only state actors involved in SB 8 are state court judges and clerks. Texas lawmakers wrote the law in such a way as to abrogate responsibility for the law, leaving Whole Women’s Health Coalition in the position of needing to sue each state trial court judge and an injunction against every county clerk in the state of Texas. The DOJ is suing the state of Texas. If the court rules in either case in favor of either Whole Women’s Health Coalition or the DOJ, the case would go back to the lower court and allow the plaintiff’s legal challenge to the law proceed.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on qualified immunity won’t affect New Mexico

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of qualified immunity in two separate, but similar, federal cases that involved police officers who, the plaintiffs alleged, used excessive force in the two separate incidents. 

But, those rulings will not impact the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the use of qualified immunity as a legal defense in state civil cases, said Leon Howard, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Howard said that states are allowed to provide more protection for the individuals who live in the state than the federal constitution does but not less. 

“When the Supreme Court rules on a constitutional issue, they’re interpreting the federal constitution and the body of law that makes up interpretation of the federal constitution,” Howard said. The Supreme Court does not get involved in a case unless there is a federal question, Howard said. 

A plaintiff in New Mexico can still sue a government entity for constitutional violation in federal court, Howard said. But in federal court, the government entity can still rely on the qualified immunity defense. Qualified immunity is a judicial rule established decades ago that has become an obstacle almost impossible to surpass in court. 

Related: What ‘qualified immunity’ means for New Mexico

The government entity in a case would have to argue that the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed in the 2021 Legislature and signed shortly thereafter by the governor, was violating its federal constitutional rights, Howard said.

What’s ahead for the U.S. Supreme Court this year for reproductive health

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the U.S. Supreme Court case on Mississippi’s 15-week gestational ban, is not the only reproductive healthcare case that the high court could hear this year, according to Supreme Court watchers. The date for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health has not been set yet but Ellie Rushforth, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the court usually doesn’t deliver its opinion on abortion cases until June or July. “Then begins an election,” Rushforth said, indicating the 2022 mid-term races between Republicans and Democrats will begin in earnest. Rushforth said the court will not likely hear oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health until December at the earliest. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health has the potential to upend Roe v. Wade.