Abortion care providers in New Mexico expect an increase in patients if a court allows Texas’ six-week gestational ban to take effect in September. A group of Texas abortion fund and clinic providers filed suit in a Texas state court last week to stop the state’s new law from going into effect. But because the law is new territory, providers, abortion fund organizations and legal experts in New Mexico are watching to see if the court blocks the law with an injunction and, if not, how large the ripple effect could be felt in this neighboring state. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico called the Texas law not just unconstitutional but “sinister.”
“The point of this [Texas] law is to instill fear and place a bounty on the head of anyone who is providing abortion care or helping people get the care they need. It’s inviting and encouraging complete strangers to stake out and continue to harass abortion providers and networks of care,” she said.
The bill that would repeal a state statute that criminalizes abortion care in New Mexico is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk after the House of Representatives passed it on a 40 to 30 vote. This is a priority bill for Lujan Grisham and she has indicated that she would sign it into law.
The House of Representatives took up SB 10 instead of HB 7, which are mirror bills. SB 10 already passed the state Senate by a vote of 25 to 17 on February 12, and was amended to clarify the bill’s title. Each chamber must pass identical legislation before it can be sent to the governor. Related: In historic turn, state Senate passes abortion ban repeal
Just as during the Senate floor debate, Republicans in the House attempted to amend the bill and argued for hours over keeping the section of the law that is considered by some healthcare workers as a refusal clause.
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.
A lawsuit over abortion rights in Texas currently pending before the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals could impact women in New Mexico. A judge is expected to make a decision on Whole Women’s Health v. Paxton in the near future, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is a party to the suit.
The state of Texas passed a law to make an abortion procedure illegal in that state in 2017. The procedure, called dilation and evacuation, is the form of abortion that usually occurs after the 13th week of gestation. The Texas case would make it illegal. The safety of this procedure has been documented since the 1970s, according to the reproductive policy organization the Guttmacher Institute.
New Mexico women who need contraception are likely safe for now despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision which will allow private companies to opt out of providing insurance coverage for it, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. A recent law passed in New Mexico enables women in the state to continue contraceptive coverage despite the court’s decision which now enables private companies to deny contraception coverage by citing moral or religious objections. But, Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney for the ACLU-NM warned, the future is uncertain. “It doesn’t mean we’re fully insulated from future issues related to this,” she said. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision on Wednesday in the case, Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.
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.
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 legislative committee on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have restricted late-term abortions in New Mexico and ensured that minors seeking an abortion obtain parental support. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee also voted to stop a bill that would allow hospitals and medical professionals to opt out of performing an abortion for moral or religious reasons stalled in the committee. The 3-2 votes fell along party lines in both cases, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans. The action came as no surprise, given the House of Representatives’ recent support for House Bill 51, which would repeal an unenforceable 50-year-old law that made it a fourth-degree felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico. That measure cleared the House on a 40-29 vote, with six Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.
Planned Parenthood is expanding to El Paso for the first time in nearly 10 years, which supporters say will make abortion access easier for women in Southern New Mexico. Marshall Martinez, the public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, told NM Political Report while it still isn’t convenient for people in Las Cruces to drive to El Paso, the new clinic will be an additional resource for southern New Mexico. “This would provide an additional point of access, closer than Albuquerque, which is needed for the community down there,” Martinez said. Planned Parenthood currently has two clinics that provide abortion services in New Mexico. One in Albuquerque, and the other in Santa Fe.
Reproductive healthcare and abortion access may be profoundly personal decisions, but changes to public policy in New Mexico could generate repercussions that extend far beyond the most private experiences of women across the state. According to recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one-in-four women in the United States have had or will have an abortion by age 45. And since Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced in June that he would retire July 31, attention to a 50-year-old New Mexico law has intensified. Dormant since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the statute would go back into effect if Roe is overturned, meaning anyone who performs an abortion in New Mexico could be charged with a 4th-degree felony. Read this story’s companion piece, “Midterms could be key, with New Mexico’s abortion rights protections at a crossroads,” here.
The social stigma attached to abortion means that many people don’t talk about it openly, said Planned Parenthood of New Mexico CEO Vicki Cowart in a recent interview, but there are millions of women for whom it has played a part in their personal and family histories.