On April 25, after 8 and a half hours of contentious and emotional hours of testimony, the Edgewood Town Commission voted 4 to 1 to pass an ordinance restricting the operation of abortion clinics. Edgewood is a small rural community of about 6,000 residents separated by the Sandia Mountains East of Albuquerque.
The debate included more than 2 hours of executive session while officials consulted with attorneys and 3 hours of public comment lasting into the early morning hours of April 26. Well over 200 people packed the Edgewood Town Office commission chambers until there was standing room only and spilling over to an overflow room.
Edgewood’s ordinance is based on the Comstock Act which is federal legislation from the 1870s that prohibits the mailing of “obscene material,” including medication or equipment used in abortions. Edgewood’s ordinance states that a private citizen can sue anyone, with some exceptions, if they believe the person has violated the Comstock Act. The town of Edgewood itself does not have any enforcement powers under the ordinance. Under the ordinance, a plaintiff could be awarded at least $10,000 as well as costs and attorney fees with damages capped at $100,000. The Edgewood ordinance is essentially plagiarized from Texas law and another ordinance enacted by another New Mexico rural community.
Edgewood Town Commissioners Brennan, Jerry Powers, Sterling Donner, the sponsor of the ordinance, and mayor Audrey Jaramillo voted for the ordinance. Commissioner Phil Anaya voted against it. Edgewood commissioners acknowledged themselves that the ordinance will be difficult to enforce and that legal challenges will be very costly after the New Mexico Municipal League insurance pool refused coverage to Edgewood. The Edgewood Town commission agreed to accept free legal representation from Texas-based attorney Jonathan Mitchell who is known as the architect of the anti-abortion legislation in Texas and local government restrictions on abortion within several states. But how long that will last is unknown, until of course he leaves town.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two abortion-rights bills that override local ordinances aimed at limiting access and shield providers of abortions from prosecution by out-of-state interests. It was the first time a local governing body had debated what supporters call a “de facto abortion ban” after state legislators passed House Bill 7, which prohibits municipalities from restricting access to reproductive health care. That bill goes into effect in mid June.
PROS AND CONS
There were roughly 30 Edgewood residents who attended out of the more than 200 in attendance who spoke. About half of the Edgewood residents were in favor of the ordinance and half were against it. Among those from other communities around the state, the majority spoke in favor.
Supporters of the ordinance urged commissioners to send a message with their vote that keeps out local abortion providers including pharmacy chains. Impassioned speeches equated abortion with murder. Opponents of the ordinance accused commissioners of overstepping their authority and threatening access to medication used not only in abortion but also used to treat miscarriages.
Edgewood Mayor Audrey Jaramillo repeatedly warned the crowd to “stay respectful”. She noted the commission chambers were too crowded for many people to enter. She read her concerns into the record and said this:
“Someone has to stand up for the defenseless babies. May we all agree — pro-baby.”
Edgewood Town Commissioner Sterling Donner was very defiant in his support of the ordinance and had this to say:
“What this does is it paints a picture to anybody who is thinking about possibly moving to Edgewood, painting this as not a friendly place for them to be. … That we do not want them here . That’s what this does. This has teeth. … We want to join our allies in the state that are doing the same things. … It’s time to rise up, it’s time to fight … for the rights of these unborn children.”
Edgewood Commissioner Jerry Powers said lawsuits seem almost inevitable. He said it’s important that the ordinance is ultimately supported by community members and put it this way:
“ I don’t think it’s the smart move to jump in like this. I just want the people to understand that the consequences of this that have been laid out by the attorneys, of jumping into this battle and not waiting it out for a couple of months for the [NM] Supreme Court, could be serious to Edgewood. … When I say serious, I mean serious. It will tie up a lot of the staff time, it will time up a lot of our attorney time”
Edgewood resident Elvira Maxwell said she has been to commission meetings before but this was the “hottest issue” she has ever seen it. Maxwell said this:
“You can’t be in the middle, you can’t say ‘It’s my body, I should have a choice, it’s my body.’ Well, God didn’t design us like that. … You say ‘This is right this is wrong.”
Edgewood resident Linda Burke said she did not think the crowd of supporters of the ordinance was representative of how residents of the town feel. Burke said this:
“Why put us through this? Why cause the legal turmoil it’s going to cause? Why cause the distraction away from all of the work that needs to be done. … All of our staff, if they’re distracted from finding funding and making sure things are happening, how does that bode well for our town?”
Edgewood resident Erika Anderson said the ordinance threatens to pit neighbors against each other in lawsuits and tear the community apart. She said this:
“It’s really unnerving to see such a divisive ordinance trying to pull apart our community and our neighbors. … I would really, really want you to consider … the risk you are putting our town at by trying to be a leader or make a stand in this type of thing.”
After the vote was taken, loud applause ensued. Commissioner Ken Brennan warned that it was setting up the town for a costly and time-consuming legal fight.
“This is going to be a long battle, it’s going to be a long fight and it’s going to be expensive. … I’m holding everybody who has already said it today and in the last meeting that we had that they’re going to support us with their voices and their checkbooks. This is going to be difficult and it’s going to be hard. I pray to God that we all survive and that we make this a better place for everybody.”
OUT OF TOWN AGITATORS
Santa Fe area Democrat State Representative Andrea Romero attended the meeting in support of those who are in opposition to the ordinance. She was one of the sponsors of House Bill 7 that passed the 2023 Legislature. House Bill 7 prohibits municipalities from restricting access to reproductive health care. Romero said she attended the meeting to promote “understanding of the laws that we have [on] the books and the protections that we have in place for choice.”
Romero believes the Edgewood ordinance violates New Mexico law. Romero said this:
“This has been very clear throughout the meeting that this law was proposed by someone who has been proposing these laws in Texas and now he’s brought them to Edgewood. … They’re coming from out of state and they’re playing out these very litigious wars in our own state.”
COALITION OF CONSERVATIVES IN ACTION
Many out-of-town agitators went to the meeting to show their support for passage of the Edgewood ordinance, including members of the Coalition of Conservatives in Action (CCA). The Coalition of Conservatives in Action is Las Cruces based citizen’s activist organization.
Quoting the Coalition of Conservatives in Action web page, its MISSION STATEMENT is as follows:
“CCIA’s mission is to challenge, engage and hold accountable elected and appointed officials, – City Council, School Board, County Commission, State Senators and Representatives, by educated and informed citizens through civil discourse in order that effective change is realized. We believe that all change begins at the local level. Through the Will of God and by critical thinking and merit, not by race, ethnicity, or victimhood, CCIA shall advocate for and empower citizens at every level of the political process for the advancement and quality of life of our local communities and state.”
Quoting the Coalition of Conservatives in Action web page, its VISION STATEMENT is as follows:
“Over time, we have allowed ourselves to be enslaved by a corrupt government. Our civic duty is to challenge government overreach, hypocrisy, and injustices through civil discourse. CCIA envisions a community where all citizens embrace the duty to ensure that candidates reflecting core American values of freedom, equality and justice are elected to office and hold them accountable and responsible for those values.”
Quoting the Coalition of Conservatives in Action web page, its VALUES STATEMNT provides as follows:
“CCIA is an American 1st, grassroots, IN-ACTION advocacy organization. We are a coalition of independent citizens who are non-partisan, non-denominational, color- and identity blind. All are welcome to join our ranks toward a common goal to IMPROVE or CHANGE OUR COMMUNITY. As “We the People”, we stand firm in upholding our God-given freedoms and rights through engaging in all aspects of the political process regardless of party affiliation. At CCIA’s core and foundation is Faith, Family and Freedom. We hold steadfast the core bedrock American beliefs … .”
The coalition is decidedly and supports anti abortion initiatives. According to its web page the CCIA has 4 Focus Action Committees. These committees, or action teams, are the “spear heads” of CCIA. The 4 committees are listed as follows:
- Election Integrity
- Faith Outreach
- Crime and Public Policy
- Pro-Life Initiative
The link to the Coalition of Conservatives in Action web page is here:
Tanya Watkins and her husband John from Rio Rancho who are members of the Coalition of Conservatives in Action expressed disappointment that their own Rio Rancho city government wasn’t taking up a similar ordinance and had this to say:
“We decided to come and support them. We love what they’re doing, I would like to see this ignite little fires all over the state of New Mexico. … I think that for the most part New Mexico does have conservative values and I think that our government is not representing our values.”
OTHER OUTSIDERS ATTENDING
Mark Lee Dickson, the Director or the Right to Life of East Texas, also attended the meeting and spoke during public comments before leaving to depart to Lubbock, Texas. Dickson is an the anti-abortion activist who travels the country helping jurisdictions with similar ordinances. Dickson disclosed to the Albuquerque Journal he was simultaneously monitoring a city council meeting debating the issue in Illinois. Many others from Rio Rancho, Clovis, Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Moriarty and elsewhere attended with even more participating via Zoom.
NEW MEXICO ABORTION LAWS
New Mexico abortion laws are among the most liberal in the country. In 2021, the Democratic-led New Mexico Legislature repealed the dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, ensuring access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court last year rolled back guarantees.
Similar ordinances have been adopted by two counties and three municipalities across eastern New Mexico. But most of those ordinances have been blocked by the New Mexico Supreme Court while it considers a challenge by Democratic Attorney General Raúl Torrez who says the ordinances violate constitutional rights to equal protection and due process and threaten the state’s status as a safe haven for women seeking abortions.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week preserved women’s access to a drug used in the most common method of abortion, rejecting lower-court restrictions while a lawsuit proceeds.
Links to quoted news source material are here:
GOVERNOR AND ATTORNEY GENERAL REACT
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office had this to say in a statement about the enactment of the Edgewood ordinance:
“Abortion remains legal and accessible to every New Mexican. The governor recently signed into law HB 7, which prohibits local governments from enacting abortion bans. It is clear the Town of Edgewood’s ordinance will be unenforceable in light of the passage of HB 7. We will take whatever action is needed to ensure that the laws of New Mexico are upheld in every community, including those seeking to strip women of their reproductive rights.”
Attorney General Raúl Torrez’s had this to say in a statement about the enactment of the Edgewood ordinance:
“The ordinance passed … in Edgewood is yet another example of Texas based lawyers misleading local communities and enlisting them in their effort to bring about a national abortion ban. The New Mexico Constitution and state statutes prohibit local communities from regulating access to healthcare or infringing on a woman’s fundamental right to make the most personal decision regarding her body and her future. Attorney General Torrez is closely monitoring these unlawful actions and looks forward to resolving these important issues in the action currently pending in the New Mexico Supreme Court.”
The link to the quoted news source is here:
ROE V. WADE REVERSED
New Mexico abortion laws are among the most liberal in the country. It was on February 26, 2021, that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill repealing the long dormant 1969 criminal abortion ban. The 1969 law criminalized abortion to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest. The repeal of the 1969 law was done in anticipation of the United Supreme Court reversing the land mark decision of Roe v. Wade that guaranteed a woman’s right to choose.
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 have the 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. 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. Lujan Grisham for her part aggressively pushed back and said abortion was a woman’s decision and must remain legal in the state.
NEW MEXICO COUNTIES AND TOWNS TRY TO INTEFERE WITH WOMEN’S REPDUCTIVE RIGHTS
New Mexico is increasingly seen as a destination for abortion patients traveling from other states, especially Texas that have banned abortion, or those imposing major restrictions.
In response to the Dobbs decision, the cities of Clovis and Hobbs and Lea and Roosevelt counties passed anti-abortion ordinances that impact abortion clinics’ ability to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion.
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. At least one nearby county has approved an anti-abortion resolution. The ordinance will surely be challenged in court and set aside.
HOUSE BILL 7
On March 16, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act. House Bill 7 prohibits discrimination in reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming healthcare services. It prohibits municipalities and counties from passing ordinances that directly or indirectly discriminate against either reproductive and gender-affirming care.
House Bill 7 empowers the attorney general or district attorneys to sue an entity responsible for a violation. The court could apply remedies, including monetary damages. The court can also apply a $5,000 civil penalty or actual damages against the entity responsible for the discrimination. House Bill 7 was sponsored by State Representatives Andrea Romero, Linda Serrato, Charlotte Little, Kristina Ortez, Janelle Anyanonu and House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski.
The Governor said this about the legislation:
“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care. … I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”
NM ATTORNEY GENERAL FILES CHALLENGE TO MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY ORDINANCES
On January 22, 2023 New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed an emergency petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court asking the New Mexico Supreme Court for a declaratory judgement ruling to prohibit Lea and Roosevelt Counties and the cities of Hobbs and Clovis from enacting their own ordinances on woman’s reproductive care. The grounds alleged were that they violate the civil rights guaranteed by the state Constitution and infringe on the state’s authority to regulate health care. Torrez is asking the New Mexico Supreme Court strike down the ordinances, arguing they violate civil rights guaranteed by the state Constitution.
The legal challenge was filed as a direct result of the cities of Hobbs and Clovis, and the counties of Lea and Roosevelt passing local ordinances targeting abortion. According to the lawsuit filed the city and county ordinances infringe on the state’s authority to regulate health care. Democrat Attorney General Torrez contends in the lawsuit that the city and county ordinances misinterpret the 19th-century federal law known as the Comstock Act on the mail and conflict with state law regulating the practice of medicine. He also argues the ordinances violate the state Constitution’s guarantees to equal rights, liberty and privacy which he said are more robust than what’s outlined in the U.S. Constitution
Late last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a ruling temporarily blocking the ordinances while it considers the case. It specifically asked the parties to address the impacts of House Bill 7. The city of Eunice passed its own ordinance on the same day the Attorney General filed his case against the other local governments and consequently Eunice was not named in the case filed by the Attorney General. But last week, Eunice it filed suit against Torrez and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, claiming that the federal Comstock Act trumps the state’s law. That lawsuit will be heard in state district court in Lea County.
In response to questions about Edgewood’s ordinance, the Attorney General’s Office said that once the state Supreme Court resolves the “outstanding legal questions” it is prepared to take formal legal action to prevent jurisdictions from adopting ordinances restricting access
2022 GENERAL ELECTION POLL ON ABORTION
On August 29, 2022, the Albuquerque Journal published the results of poll taken on the issue of abortion rights for the November 2022 general elections. The link to read the full unedited Journal column is here:
The poll found thar 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.
The link to read the full unedited Journal column on the poll is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYISIS
There is no getting around it. It is pretty damn sickening when small rural community elected officials such as those in Edgewood and Eunice, rural counties such as Lea and Roosevelt Counties and small towns such as Hobbs and Clovis allow themselves to be preyed upon and made fools of by out of state agitators and anti-abortion extremists who are only interested in the headlines and be damned the consequences to the community. What was particularly egregious is that the Edgewood commission gave more than equal time to outsiders over their own constituents.
It’s unconscionable when elected officials take it upon themselves to impose their own personal morals and extremist politcal agenda believing only their point of view counts, even when it violates state law, with no respect for a woman’s healthcare reproductive rights. If those elected officials were really concerned about what their constituents wanted, they could have just as easily put their ordinances on the ballot. But no, they decided to act irresponsibly and nefariously and be damn the final cost in litigation to the community.
The actions of these 4 communities is a clear proof that Republicans will do anything they can 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. 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.
New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez needs to seek an expedited hearing on his case pending in the NM Supreme Court. In addition, Torrez should seek removal actions against the elected officials who enacted ordinances that violate New Mexico law and make an effort to hold them personally and financially responsible for their actions.
Simply put, in New Mexico, no person, no candidate, no elected official, no voter and no local 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.