News Politics

GOP Majority in New Mexico Legislature Leaves Reproductive Rights in Doubt

Teddy Wilson

After all the votes were counted on Election Day, Republicans held a majority of seats in the New Mexico state house for the first time in 60 years. This change in the political landscape could threaten abortion access not just in the state, but throughout the Southwest, where anti-choice policymakers have severely limited abortion rights.

Republicans hold a majority of seats in the New Mexico state house for the first time in 60 years. This change in the political landscape could threaten abortion access not just in the state, but throughout the Southwest, where anti-choice policymakers have severely limited abortion rights.

Restricting abortion access might not be atop the new house majority’s agenda, however, as it’s become clear the crushing labor union rights could take precedence for New Mexico Republicans.

New Mexico Republicans were able to flip the Democrats’ 37-33 majority by defeating five incumbent Democrats in November’s election.

The new Republican majority in the house will give Gov. Susana Martinez (R) a newfound political advantage, New Mexico political observers said. “That would really give the governor an advantage in pushing her agenda through,” Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor, told the Albuquerque Journal.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

While Republicans will enjoy a new majority in the house, members of the senate were not up for election this year. Democrats maintain a 25-17 majority in the chamber, and it remains to be seen how the legislature’s partisan split will affect legislative battles.

During the process of selecting new leadership, some house Republicans stressed the importance of working with Democrats in the senate. Rep. Don Tripp (R-Socorro) told KRQE Channel 13 that working across the aisle would be important in the coming months.

“When we get to the session, the members of the legislature, they’re all interested in making New Mexico a better place to live. So you just have to reach the common ground to try to move that agenda forward,” said Tripp.

Tripp was selected to be the next speaker of the house in the upcoming session, and told the Albuquerque Journal that there are significant challenges for the new Republican majority. “I think we have a monumental task before us, trying to just make the transition, because there’s nobody alive that had to go through this before,” Tripp said.

Targeting labor unions is among the priorities for the new Republican majority in the upcoming legislative session.

At a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Washington, D.C., Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) told Bloomberg News that she would like to curb union rights to make the state more attractive for business interests.

“There are a lot of things to do and this is our opportunity,” said Herrell. “We need to create opportunities in terms of jobs.”

Reproductive rights advocates in the state worry about whether the new Republican majority will also attempt to pass restrictions on abortion access. Anti-choice legislation has been defeated recently in committees, but now Democrats in the house will be unable to block those bills.

“We know that if there’s a big shift that we would be facing a whole new committee—which is where we have usually been able to defend women’s reproductive health and get any harmful bills off the table,” Adriann Barboa, field director for Strong Families New Mexico, told Rewire in the run-up to November’s election.

During the 2014 legislative session, there was one anti-choice bill introduced, but it failed to pass. There were four bills introduced during the 2013 legislative session that would have regulated abortion, but none received a hearing or a floor vote.

The new speaker has yet to address whether restrictions on abortion will be among the new majority’s priorities. However, other members of the Republican majorityincluding the newly elected members of the leadershiphave a history of pushing for abortion restrictions.

Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque), who was elected to serve as the new majority floor leader, has expressed support for parental notification laws. The newly elected majority whip, Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-Los Lunas), introduced a parental notification bill in 2011.

Rep. Herrell co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that would have criminalized abortion by victims of rape as “tampering with evidence.” Newly elected Republican caucus chair Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-Belen) was also a co-sponsor of the bill.

Any restrictions on abortion access passed by state lawmakers would have an effect on women’s reproductive rights not just in New Mexico, but throughout the region.

States surrounding New Mexico have instituted a host of harsh restrictions on abortion pushed through by radical anti-choice lawmakers. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, and Arizona all have severe restrictions on women’s access to abortion, according to ratings by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Colorado was the only state bordering New Mexico that NARAL graded higher than an “F”grading the state’s abortion access at a “C-.”

NARAL grades New Mexico’s access to abortion as an “A-.”

Because of these restrictions in surrounding states, more and more women have come to New Mexico seeking reproductive health care. The situation spurred Whole Woman’s Health, a network of health clinics, to expand its services to Las Cruces in order to accommodate women from Texas, a state that has severely restricted access under its omnibus abortion law, seeking abortion care.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Law and Policy

Voting Rights Advocates Notch Another Win, This Time in Texas

Imani Gandy

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state's photo ID requirement would be allowed to vote in the November's election.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a surprising victory for voting rights advocates, ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Hispanic voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

The decision means Texas can’t enforce the law in November’s presidential election.

Wednesday’s ruling was the latest in a convoluted legal challenge to the Texas law, which conservative lawmakers passed in 2011 and is among the most stringent voter ID laws in the nation. Voting rights advocates challenged the measure almost immediately, and the law remained blocked until the Roberts Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder revived it.

The Court in Shelby struck down a key provision of the VRA, Section 4, which is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia under Section 5 of the VRA before making any changes to their election laws. States with a history of racially discriminatory voting requirements like Texas were covered by the Section 4 pre-clearance requirement before the Shelby decision.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Within hours of the Court’s ruling in Shelby, Texas officials announced that they would begin enforcing SB 14, the restrictive voter ID law.

In response, a group of Texas voters sued Texas under a different portion of the civil rights law, arguing SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA, which forbids voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Unlike Section 5 of the VRA, which requires state officials prove a voting rights law has no discriminatory intent or effect, under Section 2, the burden of proving racial discriminatory intent or effect is placed on voters to prove the restriction discriminated against their voting rights.

Both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed and found that SB 14 had a discriminatory affect in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. Texas then requested that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case en banc, with the full slate of judges on the Fifth Circuit.

The full Fifth Circuit issued that decision Wednesday, handing Texas conservatives a decisive loss.

“The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote for the majority.

Texas claimed that it had modeled its law after Indiana’s law, which was upheld in another challenge, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The Fifth Circuit, however, rejected Texas’s argument, finding obvious differences between the two laws that affected its decision that Texas’s law had a discriminatory impact on people of color.

“While cloaking themselves in the mantle of following Indiana’s voter ID law, which had been upheld against a (different) challenge in Crawford, the proponents of SB 14 took out all the ameliorative provisions of the Indiana law,” Haynes wrote.

One such ameliorative provision was an indigency exception, which the GOP-dominated Texas house stripped from the law. That exception would have freed indigent people from any obligation of paying fees associated with obtaining a qualified photo ID.

Although the Fifth Circuit found that the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit did not fashion a remedy for this violation and instead, remanded the case back to the lower court, instructing it that the “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”

In addition, the appeals court reversed the lower court ruling that Texas had intended to discriminate against racial minorities. The court found evidence to support such a claim, but ultimately found that the district court’s overall findings were insufficient, and sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the evidence.

Nevertheless, voting rights advocates hailed the decision as a victory.

“We have repeatedly proven—using hard facts—that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Texas Republicans, including former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, rushed the law through the GOP-majority legislature in 2011, arguing that it was necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though voter fraud has been found to be almost nonexistent in other Republican-led investigations.

Politifact found in March of this year that since 2002, there had been 85 election fraud prosecutions, and not all of them resulted in convictions. To put that in perspective, from 2000 to 2014, some 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, not counting municipal and local elections.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, argued in 2015 that most of the Texas prosecutions would not have been prevented by the voter ID law, since the prosecutions were not for in-person voter fraud, but rather for marking someone else’s absentee ballots without their consent, fake registrations, or voting while ineligible.

“There are vanishingly few instances of voter fraud—incidents flat-out, not just prosecutions—that could be stopped by applying a rule requiring ID at the polls,” Levitt said, according to Politifact.

Opponents of SB 14 cited the near absence of proven in-person voter fraud, arguing that the law was intended to dilute the voting strength of the state’s increasing population of people of color, many of whom do not have photo identification and who would find it difficult to obtain it, as the opinion noted.

Laws requiring photo identification disparately impact people of color, students, and low-income voters, all groups who tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Nevertheless, Texas conservatives continue to insist that the law was appropriately tailored to address voter fraud. “Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the process,” said Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a statement on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texas may appeal to the Supreme Court and ask the high court to intervene, although given that the Roberts Court remains short one judge, a 4-4 split is possible, which would leave in place the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state’s photo ID requirement would nevertheless be allowed to vote in the upcoming election in November.