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Democrats defend status quo on abortion access in New Mexico

January 26, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, anti-abortion activists participate in the "March for Life" rally near Capitol Hill in Washington. Anti-abortion leaders across America were elated a year ago when Donald Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to appear in person at their highest-profile annual event, the March for Life held every January. The mood is more sober now — a mix of disappointment over Trump’s defeat and hope that his legacy of judicial appointments will lead to future court victories limiting abortion rights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, anti-abortion activists participate in the "March for Life" rally near Capitol Hill in Washington. Anti-abortion leaders across America were elated a year ago when Donald Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to appear in person at their highest-profile annual event, the March for Life held every January. The mood is more sober now — a mix of disappointment over Trump’s defeat and hope that his legacy of judicial appointments will lead to future court victories limiting abortion rights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic state senators advanced a bill Monday to repeal New Mexico’s dormant, 50-year-old ban on most abortion procedures that could go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.

A bill that would shore up abortion rights statewide won its first committee endorsement on a 5-3, party-line vote with Republicans in opposition.

New Mexico’s 1969 abortion statute allows medical termination of a pregnancy with permission of a specialized hospital board only in instances of incest, rape reported to police, grave medical risks to the woman and indications of grave medical defects in the fetus.

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The law has been dormant since 1973, when the nation’s highest court issued the Roe v. Wade decision, overriding state laws that banned or severely restricted access to abortion procedures.

Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque said the repeal bill aims to preserve the status quo for abortion access in New Mexico, including access to abortions during the final months of pregnancy that make up a “very small number” of procedures.

“It makes sure that women, in collaboration with their health care providers and their families, can make decisions for themselves pretty much the way we have in New Mexico now,” said Ortiz y Pino, presiding as committee chairman over hours of online pubic comment, testimony and deliberations.

Supporters of the dormant abortion restrictions said a repeal would drive away from New Mexico valued medical professionals who are conscientious objectors to abortion procedures.

Republican state Senator and physician Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras argued against a blanket repeal of the abortion ban, saying the state “cannot confuse” elective abortions with abortions that are performed to protect a women’s life.

Schmedes cradled his infant daughter in his arms as he voted against the repeal bill and said he plans introduce an amendment later that would provide a “conscience protection clause” in support of health professionals who oppose abortion on religious or moral grounds.

Bill co-sponsor and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth indicated he supports a direct appeal of the abortion ban, and would not support a new conscientious objector law specific to abortion.

Republican Sen. David Gallegos of Eunice highlighted his opposition to preserving legal status for late-term abortions, driving home the point in lengthy questioning of expert witnesses.

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Twenty-five senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the repeal — an indication of strong support in the 42-member, Democrat-led state Senate.

The state’s voters last year ousted five conservative-leaning Democratic senators who voted in 2019 against a failed bill to overturn the state’s abortion ban. Wirth said Monday that voters had “spoken loud and clear” on repealing the abortion ban.

The state House approved that bill and appears unlikely to waiver this year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, wants the abortion ban overturned.

Abortion legislation in New Mexico has implications for residents of neighboring states such as Texas, which has more stringent restrictions on abortion than New Mexico. Out-of-state women accounted for about one-quarter of the abortions performed in New Mexico in 2017.

An Albuquerque clinic is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that performs abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.

Anti-abortion activists were buoyed by President Donald Trump’s appointment of scores of federal judges — including three Supreme Court justices — who are viewed as open to repealing or weakening Roe v. Wade.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced last week that they would seek to enshrine the right for women to get abortions into federal law to protect it from court challenges.