New Mexico—my home state and the best place on earth—has always been an oasis of common sense and compassion when it comes to abortion laws. But the new GOP majority in the state legislature is working to make that a thing of the past, successfully passing two bills out of committee that would severely limit access to abortion and family planning.
A little background here: New Mexico is a deeply Catholic place and many people are personally opposed to abortion. (If you visit El Santuario de Chimayó, an important shrine in northern New Mexico, you'll find a large "Memorial to the Unborn.") But abortion restrictions don't tend to work in New Mexico because people also believe, just as deeply, in minding their own damn business. (When I was growing up, there were only a handful of anti-abortion activists standing outside the hospital in Santa Fe waving dismembered fetus signs, all of them older white men and all of them given a wide berth by just about everybody.) There are none of the major restrictions you find in other states, and a 2013 effort by out-of-state activists to ban late term abortion in the Albuquerque city limits was a resounding, embarrassing failure.
That effort was led by Bud and Tara Shaver, a married couple affiliated with the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who describe themselves as "pro-life missionaries" and run a group called Pro-Life Witness that's focused entirely on New Mexico. In the wake of their Albuquerque defeat, as RH Reality Check points out, the Shavers and their supporters vowed to focus on the state legislature.
And so they did, getting some obliging legislators to sponsor two bills, either of which would be devastating on its own. HB 390, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, would ban abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life endangerment. (Some of the original language of the bill, which was edited out in committee, was even worse. It specified that late-term abortion could only be obtained if the woman proved she was really, actually raped: "The woman must present to the special hospital board an affidavit that she has been raped and that the rape has been or will be reported to an appropriated law enforcement official.")
The other bill, HB 391, sponsored by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado of Los Lunas, would require parental notification for abortion-seeking minors (again, with an exception for "sexual abuse, rape or incest"). Both bills passed the House Judiciary Committee and are headed to the House Floor to be voted on by the full body.
But there's more. As New Mexico's Democratic representatives pointed out in an angry press release this morning, both bills also include a clause that would allow a pharmacist, physician or hospital staffer to refuse to participate in an abortion or to decline to dispense any medication "that will result in the termination of pregnancy." That includes emergency contraception, and, if you're particularly nutty, birth control pills. The so-called "conscience clauses" can even be used to deny IUDs.
"New Mexico House Republicans have gone too far," House Democratic Leader Brian Egolf is quoted as saying in a press release. He adds:
The overreach of these exemptions is simply breathtaking. These loopholes stand to hurt hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans in rural areas that may only have one or two pharmacies in their area. These bills will allow any pharmacist to deny any woman most forms of contraception, even regularly used daily contraception. We are now seeing the direct consequences of the 2014 elections. With a Republican in the Speaker's seat in our House of Representatives, New Mexicans must now face these regressive policies. We should not be passing legislation on these issues at the state level.
This is the farthest an anti-abortion bill has ever made it in New Mexico, and it probably has something to do with the fact that there's a Republican majority in the House for the first time in over 60 years. There's also currently a bill in the state Senate, SB 437, that would require abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, another common tactic to shut down abortion clinics in rural areas. That one, too, is backed by Pro-Life Witness.
Bud and Tara Shaver in 2013, listening as Susan B. Anthony List campaign manager Andy Blom delivers the Albuquerque abortion ban concession speech at the Crowne Plaza Albuquerque Hotel in Albuquerque, NM. Photo via AP