On February 26, 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill repealing the 1969 abortion ban. The 1969 law criminalized abortion to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest. The 1969 state statute had not been enforced in the state due to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade in the 1970s, which legalized abortion nationwide. The repeal of the 1969 law was necessitated by the fact the repeated attempts had been made over the years to have the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of Roe v Wade.
On June 22, 2021 the United States Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization wherein the Supreme Court overruled and reversed the cases of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and 50 years of constitutional law precedence ruling that a woman does not have constitutionally protected right to an abortion. The US Supreme Court ruled the authority to regulate abortion was returned to the individual states and their elected representatives.
As a direct result of the Supreme Court’s Dobb’s decision, abortion and woman’s reproductive rights became a defining issue in New Mexico’s 2022 Gubernatorial race between incumbent Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Mark Ronchetti. Republican Mark Ronchetti made abortion and imposing limits on a woman’s right to choose a center piece of his campaign and suggested a “reasonable policy” that proposed banning abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape, incest, and to preserve the life of the mother. Ronchetti went so far to call for a constitutional amendment where voters would decide whether abortion should be illegal.
It was on Sunday, July 10, that the very conservative Republican pastor Reverend Steven Smothermon of Legacy Church upended Mark Ronchetti’s campaign for Governor and exposed Ronchetti’s new moderate position on abortion as nothing more than ruse to get elected. Ronchetti’s new stance on abortion was that abortion should be allowed for up to 15 weeks of pregnancy and in cases involving rape, incest and when a mother’s life is at risk. This is what Smothermon preached and said from his pulpit:
I know Mark Ronchetti came out, and some people are very upset, because he said I think [abortion] is reasonable up to 15 weeks. . . I know a lot of us got mad. I did too. I had a long talk with him for hours. I said, dude right out of the gate you blew it and he said here’s what I was trying to do. I know what you were trying to do but you didn’t do it and here’s what he said.
He said, ‘listen, I just want to start with getting rid of partial birth abortion in the whole state’–which we should be happy with–and he said ‘but I can’t just go in and do it 100 percent because we won’t ever get elected.’ He said I just want to start but his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico. Just so you know.
Ronchetti labeled Governor Lujan Grisham position on abortion as “extreme” since she opposed all abortion restrictions. The Governor countered by saying Ronchetti was actually the candidate with the extreme stance on the issue and claimed it was Ronchetti who shifted his total opposition to abortion after the primary election in order to get elected.
ABORTION RIGHTS LEGISLATION FOR 2023 NM LEGISLATIVE SESSION
New Mexico Democrat lawmakers are now eyeing ways to reinforce abortion rights and access to reproductive health care in the upcoming 60-day legislative session that begins on January 17. Those ideas include codifying abortion rights into state law, investing in telehealth and clinics that provide reproductive health care, and protecting providers or patients who travel to New Mexico to escape restrictions in other states. An area of contention is whether it’s necessary to make any abortion rights as part of state law given the repeal of the 1969 criminal law.
While Texas and other neighboring states have enacted abortion bans, New Mexico allows abortion services without any restrictions. In 2021, the New Mexico legislature repealed the 1969 criminal law banning abortions. The state has also seen an increase of out-of-state residents coming to the state to obtain abortion services.
In response to the increase in out of state residents seeking abortions, Governor Lujan Grisham issued an executive order in June that protects abortion patients and providers from lawsuits and arrest warrants issued in other states. The Governor’s executive order also makes it clear that New Mexico won’t comply with abortion-related arrest warrants or extradition requests from other states.
Albuquerque Democrat State Senator Linda Lopez said legislators are evaluating how to put some or all of the Governor’s June Executive Order into state law in order to make it difficult for any future governor to repeal the protections. Legislation is also being proposed to prohibit other public entities, such as municipalities, from interfering with or denying the reproductive rights of women in New Mexico.
On November 4, 2022 it was reported that the City Commission of Clovis, New Mexico put off a vote on an ordinance designed to ban abortions within the New Mexico town fearing challenges to the move in a state where the procedure remains legal. Clovis was set to become the first town to pass a so-called “sanctuary city for the unborn”
On November 8, it was reported that the Hobbs City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance designed to ban abortions, despite the procedure being legal in the state. The so-called “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance blocks abortion clinics from operating. The ordinance will surely be challenged in court and set aside.
EXPANDING ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE
One of the major initiative being considered by Democrats for the 2023 legislative session is the expansion of access to reproductive health care in general which is needed in a state that is as large as New Mexico and that has a shortage of doctors and nurses. Democrat lawmakers are focusing attention on improving telehealth infrastructure and building clinics to provide a spectrum of pregnancy and reproductive health care services. Lujan Grisham signed an executive order in August pledging $10 million to build a state-funded clinic to provide abortion and other services in Doña Ana County and the legislature must follow through with the funding in the 2023 legislative session.
Santa Fe Democrat State Representative Linda Serrato said this:
“Having the right [to reproductive health care] is very different from being able to utilize it. … Some patients in rural parts of the state now travel for hours to Santa Fe or Albuquerque for pregnancy-related care.”
Messilla Democrat Representative Micaela Lara Cadena said New Mexico families need access to a full spectrum of health care, ranging from pregnancy services to behavioral health programs. Cadena said this:
“Abortion is health care and part of the way we get there is making sure we meet the full needs of our familias without shame or stigma.”
Albuquerque Democrat state Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart said making abortion and reproductive rights writing state law isn’t necessary and said this:
“Frankly, some of us would like our statutes to remain as they are. … [State law] doesn’t talk about abortion care because that’s really between women and their doctors, their families, etc. As soon as we put it into statute, then it can be tinkered with.”
REPUBLICANS CALL FOUL
Republicans are already gearing up to oppose any efforts by Democrats to protect a woman’s right to choose and to expand woman’s health care rights in the state. Republican lawmakers and candidates are proclaiming Democrats are going too far. They argue that New Mexico voters will support some of the abortion restrictions imposed in other states, such as parental notification for minors.
Republican Elephant Butte State Senator Crystal Diamond said this:
“Although many New Mexicans do not oppose abortion altogether, it’s clear that most support reasonable limits and protections for women and children. The Democrats’ plan to expand abortion access for minors and women from out of state is completely out of touch. … Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has returned the issue of abortion to the states, New Mexico legislators must prioritize the voices of their constituents over the demands of special interest groups and the multi-million-dollar abortion industry.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
JOURNAL POLL ON ABORTION
On Tuesday, August 29, the Albuquerque Journal published the results of poll taken on the issue of abortion rights. The link to read the full unedited Journal column is here:
The Journal poll is extremely revealing in that it breaks down the results not only as to party affiliation but also as to regions of the state.
The poll asked the question “WHICH COMES CLOSEST TO YOUR VIEW ON ABORTION” The results were as follows:
It should always be legal: 35%
It should be legal with some limitations: 22%
It should be illegal except for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life: 25%
It should always be illegal: 12%
Don’t know: 2%
None of these/won’t say: 4%
POLITCAL PARTY BREAKDOWN
The poll results were broken down according to party affiliation. The responses to the poll question by party affiliation were as follows:
It should always be legal: Democrats, 55%, Republicans: 8%, Other: 35%
It should be legal with some limitations: Democrats, 24%, Republicans: 18%, Other: 26%
It should be illegal except for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life:
Democrats, 11%, Republicans, 41%, Other: 28%
It should always be illegal: Democrats, 5%, Republicans, 24%, Other: 8%
New Mexico voters are 3 times more likely to say abortion should always be legal than they were to say it should always be illegal. According to the poll, 35% of statewide voters surveyed said abortion should always be legal, 22% said the procedure should be legal, for a combined total of 57%.
The poll found that 25% felt there should be some limitations and said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger. Just 12% of voters surveyed said abortion should always be illegal, while 4% would not say and 2% said they did not know.
According to the Journal poll results, Democrats are firmly behind a woman’s right to choose with 55% of Democrats saying abortion should always be legal and 24% of Democrats said it should be legal with some limitations for a whopping 79% combined percentage.
Republicans’ opinion are dramatically opposite with 8% saying abortion should always be legal, while 24% said it should be banned and 41% said it should be illegal with exceptions for cases of rape, incest and to save a mother’s life, with a 65% combined total to make it illegal or illegal with the exceptions of rape, incest or threat to the life of the woman.
The difference by party affiliation shrinks to a 6% difference when it comes to how voters they felt if abortions should be legal with some limitations. Interestingly, more Democrats, 24%, felt that there should be some limitations while fewer Republicans, 18%, felt there should be some limitations.
The Journal Poll did not find a big difference in attitudes on abortion between New Mexico voters based on their gender, ethnicity and age. There was little difference in voters’ views on abortion based on their education level with one exception, voters with graduate degrees were far more likely than other groups of voters to say abortion should always be legal.
With respect to the regional poll analysis, it’s somewhat of a surprise to note that it is the Las Cruces/Southwest area that had the highest approval of any region in the state that supported abortion without limits with a full 44%, while the Albuquerque Metro Region supported abortion without limits at 33%.
The Southern area of the state is widely considered a conservative part of the state, excluding the progressive Las Cruces, while the Albuquerque Metro area is considered more progressive. One explanation for the 11% difference between the regions is that more conservative Valencia and Sandoval were included and skewed the results.
Not at all surprising is that the Progressive Northeast/North Central Region of the state had the highest percent of support saying abortion should always be legal with 39%. Also not surprising is that in the very conservative Eastside region, 42% said that abortion should be illegal except for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life, and 15% said it should always be illegal.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Governor Lujan Grisham and Democrats running for New Mexico House and the United States Congress campaigned heavily on safeguarding abortion rights and woman’s reproductive rights. Republicans on the other hand ignored and are totally out of touch with just how strongly people feel about the issue.
New Mexico Republicans have every intent to do what they can to deprive a woman of their right to choose and to deprive a woman from making her own decision on reproductive rights. Simply put, no person, no candidate, no elected official, no voter and no government has any right telling a woman what she must do when it comes to abortion and what she must do when it comes to her own body.
Democrats in the 2023 legislative session will hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 edge in the Senate. Democrats would be damn fools not to deliver on their promises to protect a woman’s right to an abortion and access to reproductive health given the attempts by some Republican controlled municipalities and counties in the state to do whatever they can to make abortion illegal or inaccessible to woman.