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.
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 more than 500 pieces of anti-abortion legislation under consideration in state legislatures around the country, New Mexico’s passage of SB 10, which decriminalized abortion, bucked the nationwide trend. Only one other state passed abortion rights legislation this year. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider and rule on an unconstitutional abortion ban in the next few years, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains President and Chief Executive Officer Vicki Cowart called the passage and signing of New Mexico’s bill to repeal an abortion ban “critical,” and a “key to protecting reproductive rights.”
Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
Cowart told NM Political Report by email that this year, Virginia is the only other state that has passed a bill expanding abortion access in 2021. But since the beginning of the year, 12 states have passed anti-abortion legislation, according to a Planned Parenthood report. There are a few other states with pro-reproductive legislation under consideration, Robin Marty, author of “Handbook for a Post-Roe America” and “The End of Roe v. Wade,” said.
With the passage of legislation to repeal the state’s outdated abortion ban and the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, many in the reproductive justice community called the 2021 Legislative session “extraordinary.”
All reproductive rights groups NM Political Report spoke with cited the passage of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, or SB 10, as one of the biggest victories and a major piece of legislation to come out of the 2021 session. Legislators fast tracked the bill through committee hearings and it passed both chambers before the session’s end. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
The bill repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion and made it a fourth-degree felony for a medical practitioner to perform one. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called the 2021 Legislative session “historic.”
Rushforth said it was in contrast to other states, where in the first few months of 2021, state legislatures have introduced close to 400 pieces of anti-abortion legislation.
One of the recurring arguments raised by opponents decriminalizing abortion in the state is that healthcare providers might leave out of fear they will be forced to perform an abortion. But that’s not the case, advocates say. HB 7 and SB 10 would remove three sections of the criminal code, ensuring medical workers would not be penalized with a fourth-degree felony for providing an abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is overturned. Lawmakers criminalized abortion in 1969 and though it has been federally legal since 1973, the state law has remained on the books. Legal and health experts have repeatedly said in committee hearings that there are protections in place in various state and federal laws that allow a health care provider to refuse treatment based on personal conviction.
A virtual reproductive-justice rally to underscore the importance of repealing the 1969 abortion ban in the state took place Monday. Because of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Respect New Mexico Women, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reproductive justice, held the rally virtually to ensure safety during the pandemic. An assortment of advocates, experts, supporters and lawmakers spoke from their individual locations to talk about why repealing the 1969 ban that would outlaw abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court guts or overturns Roe v. Wade is crucial to healthcare. Related: New Mexico’s 1969 abortion law was one in a long line of laws restricting access
There were calls to action and two Albuquerque Democratic legislators, state Sen. Linda Lopez and state state Rep. Georgene Louis, of the Acoma Pueblo, spoke about why they are sponsoring the Senate and House bills. Lopez said “every pregnancy is unique and complex.”’
“Making a decision not to continue a pregnancy is very difficult and very personal,” she said.
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.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill that would decriminalize abortion by a vote of 8 to 3, including one Republican who crossed the aisle. State House Rep. Phelps Anderson, a Republican from Roswell, sided with the seven Democrats on the committee who voted yes to HB 7. Just before the bill went to vote, Anderson expressed some of his views. “Many people who have spoken to me have expressed strong opinions but I find myself saying I’m not sure one voting yes or no changes anything that is very important to me and, secondly, the issues that have been raised are not encompassed within this bill,” Anderson said. HB 7 will, if it passes the full New Mexico Legislature, repeal a law written in 1969.
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.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to reinstate restrictions on the a medication abortion pill that allowed patients to receive it through the mail during the pandemic. The justices ruled 7 to 2 on the decision in favor of the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. The FDA has maintained a rule that a patient must travel to a clinic to pick up the abortion pill mifepristone for the past 20 years when the drug first came onto the market. Reproductive advocates and experts have said that is politically motivated. The patient can take the pill in a place of their own choosing.