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.
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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 majority—including the newly elected members of the leadership—have 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.