President Joe Biden’s executive order to protect reproductive rights and care announced earlier this month can only do so much without Congressional budgetary support. The order directs federal agencies, particularly the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] to safeguard access to abortion care and contraception, protect the privacy of patients, promote the safety and security of both patients and providers and to coordinate federal efforts to protect reproductive access and rights. But, Biden’s ability to affect change on the current state of abortion care now that the court has overturned Roe v. Wade is “handcuffed” by a lack of action from the U.S. Congress, Noreen Farrell, attorney and executive director with the nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates, told NM Political Report. “Obviously, there’s some congressional handcuffs on the scope and impact of executive action,” Farrell said. Farrell called the order “a plan to make a plan.”
A few days after Biden’s order, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra issued guidance that states that providers must continue to follow the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a federal law that requires that all patients receive an examination, stabilizing treatment and transfer, if necessary, as needed, irrespective of state laws that apply to specific procedures.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti reportedly told Legacy Church Senior Pastor Steve Smothermon that he wants to ban abortion if elected. Ronchetti has publicly stated that, if elected, he will seek to ban what he calls “partial-birth abortions” by making it illegal after 15 weeks. Ronchetti said in a recent Twitter message that “I believe permitting abortion up to 15 weeks and in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is at risk.”
“Partial-birth abortion” is not a medical term, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. During a Republican primary debate hosted by KOAT-TV in May, Ronchetti did not explicitly answer the question of whether he would ban or restrict abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. He said he was “firmly pro-life” and “we will protect life.”
He also said he wants to “work with anyone we can to say let’s get things into line with where the morality of the state of New Mexico is.” But he did not explain what he meant.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to put a lawsuit on hold late last week that could have longer term implications for the abortion medication mifepristone. On Friday the HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, filed in Hawaii district court a request to stay a lawsuit that has been ongoing around mifepristone since 2017. The ACLU, which also filed for the stay, is suing the U.S. Health and Human Services on behalf of a Hawaii clinician. The ACLU and the Hawaii clinician are suing because the FDA’s in-person pickup requirement for mifepristone requires patients in Hawaii to have to fly between islands to receive a single pill. Once a patient has picked up mifepristone at a clinic, they can go home to take it. The FDA requires abortion patients to travel to a clinic to pick up mifepristone because the abortion medication is under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), drug safety program intended for medications with serious safety concerns.
Mifepristone has been in the FDA’s REMS program since the FDA approved the prescription drug in 2000.
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).
With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins
Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.
President-elect Joe Biden made COVID-19 a linchpin of his campaign, criticizing President Donald Trump’s leadership on everything from masks and packed campaign rallies to vaccines. That was the easy part. Biden now has the urgent job of filling top health care positions in his administration to help restore public trust in science-driven institutions Trump repeatedly undermined, and oversee the rollout of several coronavirus vaccines to a skeptical public who fear they were rushed for political expediency. At the top of that list is a new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, an agency where Biden faces immense pressure to move faster than any other modern president as the pandemic rages and COVID deaths are expected to surge through the winter. That agency and its beleaguered personnel will be relied on to give the green light to vaccines and therapeutics to fight the COVID pandemic.
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.
A Maryland judge ruled last week that an abortion provider can deliver the abortion medication, mifepristone, to patients seeking abortion care through telehealth. But the court injunction is “temporary in nature,” Wendy Basgall, Southwest Women’s Law Center staff attorney, said. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a preliminary injunction, which the judge granted. But it only lasts while the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration of a federal public health emergency is in effect. Mifepristone is one of two medications that an abortion patient takes for a medical abortion.
New Mexico is one of two states – the other is New York – that meets the gating criteria set by the White House for reopening, according to a group of public health and crisis experts. A website called covidexitstrategy.org is mapping the state-by-state response to reopening and, according to the map, only New Mexico and New York meet the gating criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization is made up of public health and crisis experts who are nonpartisan and worked at the federal level during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, according to the site. The criteria include things like the number of ICU beds available and the downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico’s secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, talked about the map and New Mexico’s criteria for reopening during a town hall meeting broadcast live through social media Wednesday along with Dr. Richard Larson, vice chancellor for research with the University of New Mexico Health Science.
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.