The swift-moving bill to decriminalize abortion care heads next to the House floor after passing the House Judiciary Committee 8 to 4 Friday. HB 7, sponsored by state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, passed along party lines after a three-hour long committee meeting devoted solely to the bill. State representatives on both sides of the aisle repeatedly thanked one another for a respectful debate despite ideological differences on the issue. The arguments both for and against the bill that will, if passed, repeal a statute that banned abortion in 1969 except under very special circumstances, have remained the same throughout the process. HB 7 will not change the way abortion care is performed currently but many members of the public who are against the bill continue to express fear that medical care providers will be forced to perform abortions despite their personal moral convictions.
Unlike 2019 when the New Mexico State Senate blocked repealing the 1969 abortion ban, more than half of the 2021 state Senate have signed on to cosponsor SB 10, this year’s effort. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a bill that will run parallel to HB 7, sponsored by state House Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla. Co-sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D- Santa Fe, said during a press conference Monday morning held by Respect New Mexico Women, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, that 25 state senators have signed onto the bill for the 2021 Legislature.
The Senate bill was scheduled to be heard in its first committee Monday afternoon. “This shows how far we’ve come with this legislation,” Wirth said, alluding to the 2019 repeal effort which failed when eight state Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to defeat the bill. One of those Democrats died while in office and five of the others lost to more progressive Democrats in 2020 primaries, three of whom won in the general election.
A bill to protect Native American children so they can remain within their tribal communities and extended families will be pre-filed in the state Legislature in January, supporters say. The bill, still in draft form, will codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) into state law if it’s passed by the state Legislature next year. The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act into law in 1978 but it is too often not enforced, according to experts working on the state law. Because of implicit bias against Native Americans, Native children are often removed from the home when a white child in an identical situation is not, said Donalyn Sarracino, director of Tribal Affairs for the Office of the Secretary for Child, Youth and Families Department and of the Pueblo of Acoma. She said this is a national problem and that, in some cases, the rate of removals of Native children from their families is sometimes four times higher than white children removals.
Spurred by accounts of an Albuquerque hospital found to discriminate against Native pregnant women in the early months of the pandemic, a group of reproductive experts formed a guideline on perinatal care during emergencies. Charlene Bencomo, executive director of the nonprofit Bold Futures, said the news stories of an Albuquerque hospital that was found to discriminate against Native women based on the zip codes they lived in earlier in the pandemic brought the group of 12 New Mexico-based organizations together over the summer to produce the guidelines. The 10-page document called Perinatal Emergency Recommendations, Considering Disparities and Outcomes: COVID-19 and Beyond, offers comprehensive information for health care providers on how to care for pregnant people who are Indigenous, Black, Latinx and people of color, Bencomo said. Several doula, breastfeeding, midwife, birthing centers and other organizations that provide midwife, doula and other reproductive care participated in the guidelines. The guidelines range from prenatal care to labor and delivery to postpartum care, including breastfeeding.
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.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law Friday that protects working mothers and new moms from discrimination in the workplace. HB 25, or the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill, amends the state’s Human Rights Act to make pregnancy, childbirth and conditions related to either a protected class from employment discrimination. “It’s good to sign a bill that does what is so obviously the right thing to do,” Lujan Grisham said through a written statement. “There is no world I can imagine in which it would be right or fair to discriminate against a woman for becoming a mother.”
The bill allows a pregnant person or new mom to ask for “reasonable accommodations” such as a stool, extra bathroom breaks, or time to make prenatal visits. The new law prohibits an employer from forcing a pregnant worker or new mom to take time off because of their condition unless requested by the employee.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday for a Louisiana abortion law that could affect the entire country, including New Mexico. The nine justices on the court were asked to consider whether a Louisiana law that prohibits doctors who do not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to provide abortions conflicts with an identical Texas law the high Court struck down in 2016. The difference between the Texas case and the Louisiana one is who is sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court bench. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the liberal wing of the court in 2016 and the court struck down the Texas law. But since the U.S. Congress appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the bench in 2018 after a controversial hearing, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights groups both anticipate that the 2016 ruling could be overturned.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill that will enable pharmacists to be paid for time spent prescribing emergency contraception and hormonal contraception. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed. Backers say HB 42 will particularly help rural pharmacists and rural patients. Senator Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who carried the bill in the Senate, said it helps pharmacists because they are paid for filling prescriptions, but they are not paid for the time they spend prescribing medications. Because there are doctor shortages in rural areas in New Mexico, this could help rural patients, say backers of the bill.
A bill protecting pregnant workers nearly died on the Senate floor Tuesday night when a Democrat tried to introduce an amendment viewed as “unfriendly.” However, the Senate defeated the amendment and the bill itself passed unanimously. HB 25 seeks to protect pregnant workers and new moms in the workplace by amending the state Human Rights Act to include those employees. This would enable pregnant people and new moms to seek mitigation under the state’s Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been discriminated against if an employer refuses “unreasonable accommodations.”
An amendment that Senator Joseph Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, tried to attach to the bill took issue with the idea that pregnant workers and new moms belong under the Human Rights Act. Candelaria, who is openly gay, said the bill created a “new suspect class of people.” He did not want the Human Rights Act to be amended. He said the bill would “erode decades of civil rights litigation and protections” reserved for immutable aspects of a person such as sexual orientation.