Gov. gives full support of abortion ban repeal as measure advances in Senate
By Andrew Oxford
Former Gov. Susana Martinez mostly stayed out of the debate over abortion.
But her successor is jumping right into the middle of it.
Amid the specter that courts could overturn or significantly undermine Roe v. Wade, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has offered her full-throated endorsement to legislation that would repeal once and for all New Mexico’s old, unenforceable ban on the procedure.
Between mentioning House Bill 51 during her State of the State address and rallying supporters of it on Saturday, Lujan Grisham has waded further into the issue of abortion than a New Mexico governor has in several years.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted along party lines Saturday to advance the controversial bill. But a bigger test might be ahead, as some Senate Democrats have supported restrictions on abortion in the past. The issue could become yet one more area where the newly elected Democratic governor clashes with more conservative members of her own party.
Proponents argue the measure repealing an archaic law would provide a safeguard against big changes in policy at the federal level.
“This bill will just keep the status quo of how things are now when Roe v. Wade is attacked,” said Rep. Joanne Ferrary, a Democrat from Las Cruces and one of the bill’s sponsors.
But critics contend the one-page bill would not just erase the statute that made it a crime to commit an abortion but also would scrap the only provision in state law that expressly allows medical professionals to refuse to participate in such procedures.
More significantly, the governor’s advocacy on the issue represents a shift at the Capitol.
Martinez said little publicly about abortion during her two terms in office, leaving New Mexico out of that culture war as other states enacted sweeping restrictions on the procedure. Lujan Grisham is getting hands-on.
She met with backers of the bill Saturday.
A crowd of health care professionals and advocates delivered a petition they said included more than 10,000 signatures from supporters of HB 51 in each of the state’s counties.
Lujan Grisham greeted the group in the lobby of her office and renewed her support.
“We have a moral obligation to empower women, to support providers, to be clear that we will not have an abstract — actually in today’s climate, bizarre, unfair — law that would criminalize providers for doing the job they are required to do,” the governor said.
Critics argue the bill is not so simple, largely because it would remove the provision allowing doctors and hospitals to decline to perform or assist in an abortion.
“Just because it’s simple in its language doesn’t mean the implications aren’t far-reaching,” said Elisa Martinez, president of New Mexico Alliance for Life.
Nearly every state has adopted some sort of so-called conscience clause.
An analysis by legislative aides maintained that federal law still includes such protections.
Still, Republican lawmakers have introduced House Bill 600, which would repeal the old ban on abortion but also impose new restrictions and provide a so-called conscience clause.
New Mexico has relatively few laws restricting abortion. And campaigns in recent years to impose new limits have faltered in the Legislature. But because President Donald Trump is appointing more conservative judges to federal courts, advocates for access to abortion argue there is a particular urgency to create a bulwark against changes in federal policy.
The House of Representatives passed House Bill 51 by a vote of 40-29.
Despite Lujan Grisham’s advocacy, however, HB 51 might still meet with resistance in the Senate.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat from Deming who said Saturday he would vote against HB 51, expected the legislation could run into trouble on the Senate floor.
The bill goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.