After Republicans secured a majority in the New Mexico house during the 2014 midterm elections, reproductive rights advocates feared that the new political landscape would threaten abortion access not just in the state, but throughout the Southwest.
Those fears are being realized, as a pair of bills to restrict reproductive rights is moving through the state legislature and appear to be headed for a full vote.
HB 390, introduced by Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo), would amend existing state law to include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, unless the life and the health of the mother is at risk, or the pregnancy was a result of sexual abuse, rape, or incest.
HB 390 would also impose civil penalties on any physician who violates the act, with a minimum one-year suspension of the physician’s license and a fine of at least $5,000.
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Introduced by House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado (R-Los Lunas), HB 391 would require physicians to provide notice of a planned abortion procedure of a non-emancipated minor to one parent or guardian at least 48 hours prior to the procedure.
HB 391 would also require that the notice be delivered in a sealed envelope addressed to the parent or guardian and delivered by courier or similar service. Physicians would be required to keep records of all notifications.
Anti-choice activists last year in Albuquerque campaigned for a city-wide ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Residents voted down the measure by an overwhelming 55-45 margin after activists secured enough petition signatures to force the city council to place the issue on the ballot.
After that defeat, anti-choice activists set their sights on the state legislature as a possible vehicle for banning later abortion care in the state.
The house regulatory and public affairs committee on February 20 held a hearing on HB 390 for several hours, hearing testimony from dozens of witnesses both in favor and opposed to the bill.
The committee heard testimony from Rachael Riley, who was among activists who campaigned against the Albuquerque ballot measure that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. During that campaign, Riley said she became pregnant, and later needed an abortion in an emergency.
The anti-choice proposal provides an exemption for anyone with a religious objection to abortion to not participate in the procedure. This exemption has been pushed by New Mexico’s Roman Catholic bishops, among others in the state’s anti-choice movement.
“I nearly bled to death in front of my partner and my daughter. If there was a religious exemption, I would have died and my daughter would have no mother,” Riley said, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Supporters of HB 390 claim the legislation would bring the state in line with 42 other states that have similar bans. “We have an opportunity to speak for the unborn. To me, this is not a choice,” said Rep. Herrell, reported the Albuquerque Journal.
Forty-two states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. Among those states, there are 18 that impose bans after a certain number of weeks, and ten that ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
After the hearing, HB 390 was passed by the committee in a 4-3 vote along party lines. House Democrats said in a statement after the vote that the bill would take away complex and personal decisions to have an abortion later in pregnancy from a woman, her family, and her doctor.
“I am disappointed that House Republicans voted to insert the government into a very personal decision,” Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque) said in the statement. “Politicians and the government cannot have a say in this deeply personal decision.”
After being referred to the house judiciary committee, the bill was passed Friday by a 7-6 vote, again along party lines.
Recent legislative sessions have seen Democrats prevent anti-choice legislation from moving beyond the committee level. That is no longer an option with Republicans in control of the house.
“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.
If passed, HB 390 would not just affect access to later abortion care in New Mexico, but also throughout the region. There are significant restrictions on both access and the amount of reproductive health care available in neighboring states. Texas and Oklahoma both have bans on abortion after 20 weeks.
New Mexico has become the only option for some women in the Southwest, where they can receive a full range of reproductive health-care options. In order to accommodate that need after serveral abortion restrictions took effect in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health opened a clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Both HB 309 and HB 391 were placed on the house calendar Tuesday and await a vote by the full house, where the GOP has a 37-33 advantage.
Democrats enjoy a comfortable 25-17 edge in the state senate.