Home Local News NM AG challenges city and county abortion ordinances

NM AG challenges city and county abortion ordinances

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Gabrielle Arsiaga/News-Sun

On Monday, New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez filed a motion with the N.M. Supreme Court asking recent ordinances passed in Southeast New Mexico be nullified by the court.

The ordinances Torrez named in the Writ of Mandamus request, were passed by Hobbs, Clovis, Lea and Roosevelt Counties — and, though not named in the suit, on Monday night Eunice passed a similar ordinance.

Those ordinances were written in a way that would make opening an abortion clinic in those areas more difficult because any potential abortion business would be required to follow federal law.

Hobbs, Clovis, Eunice, and Lea and Roosevelt Counties’ ordinances do not ban abortions within city or county limits, they only limit the operations of an abortion clinic in each respective place by outlining what an abortion business — like any other business — must do to receive a business license in those locations.

Torrez said the ordinances are an “overstep” by “local government authority to regulate health care access,” and violates the state constitution.

Local officials said the legal challenge was expected by the Democrat Attorney General and Democrat governor. And those officials stress the ordinances do not try to ban abortions.

“This was not a surprise,” Lea County Commission Chair Dean Jackson said. “We expected this to come.”

Hobbs’ Mayor Sam Cobb said while he knew “leadership from up north” would not be pleased with the passing of the ordinance regulating business license procedures dealing with abortion clinics, he did not think the legal challenge would come straight from Torrez’ office.

“I think (the City Commission of Hobbs) knew when we did the ordinance, that there was going to be some push back from the state, but didn’t know exactly at what level,” Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb told the News-Sun.

“The governor responded immediately that same day (the city passed the ordinance) about how she was not happy with what we were doing,” he said. “Just like our press release stated, we drafted that ordinance, took public input, and it was clear that there was an overwhelming majority opinion within the community that they wanted an ordinance passed. That’s why we did what we did.”

The Hobbs mayor said in a press release the ordinance does not infringe on women’s right.

“The City of Hobbs unequivocally supports women and women’s rights,” Cobb stated in the press release.

N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she would like New Mexico to become an abortion destination for women from all around the country, but the closest provider to the southeastern portion of the state, and neighboring states, is in Las Cruces — about a four hour drive from Hobbs, and 45 minutes from El Paso, Texas, or in Albuquerque, about five hours away.

Lujan Grisham signed an executive order providing $10 million in state money to a private abortion provider to open a clinic in Las Cruces — a move critics say may fly in the face of the state’s anti-donation clause.

During the COVID pandemic, when Lujan Grisham closed most “mom and pop shops,” along with many hospitals, she made sure abortion clinics in Albuquerque stayed open and provided abortions on demand, up to birth.

Hobbs’ City Attorney Efren Cortez — author of the Hobbs ordinance— stated, before the attorney general made the decision to petition the Court for a Writ of Mandamus, he “hoped…(the City) would have been contacted by the Attorney General’s office to discuss the substance of the City of Hobbs (abortion) ordinance. Such a conversation could have served to remedy any misunderstanding.”

The Clovis ordinance, approved in early January, is facing a petition challenge, but Mayor Mike Morris said he thinks voters there would overwhelmingly favor keeping the ordinance if it were on the ballot.

Morris declined further comment on the pending litigation.

There is no abortion clinic currently in Hobbs, and supporters of the ordinance hope it will continue to help keep out abortion clinics.

Prior to the passing of the ordinance, Mark Lee Dickson, a pastor in East Texas and head of Right to Life of East Texas, along with Jonathan F. Mitchell, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and is a former Solicitor General of Texas, founded the “Sanctuary Cities for the Inborn” movement, have both said they would defend any city that passes an anti- abortion ordinance, at no cost, if the city faces legal challenges.

Now that battle is here, Dickson said he is ready to help.

“We will have to see what the New Mexico Supreme Court says (about the Writ),” Dickson stated in an email to the News-Sun. “And, after that, perhaps we will have to see what the Supreme Court of the United States has to say about this matter. The fact that these cities and counties wish to comply with these federal statutes are not the real problem. The Attorney General’s problem ultimately is with the United States Congress who passed these federal statutes in 1873. 

“Despite the filing in the Supreme Court of New Mexico, cities and counties across the state remain on good standing to pass ordinances requiring compliance with 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461-1462 — which have never been repealed by Congress or declared invalid by the Supreme Court of the United States. Last night the City of Eunice moved forward in passing an ordinance requiring compliance with these federal statutes making them the third city in New Mexico to pass such an ordinance.” 

And Dickson said, if asked, Mitchell will offer legal aid to the cities and counties named in the filing by Torrez.

“Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell, the architect of the Texas Heartbeat Act, has offered legal representation at no cost to the counties, the cities, and their taxpayers,” Dickson stated.

In his filing, Torrez argues that the New Mexico Constitution provides broader protection of individual rights than the U.S. Constitution — and the local ordinances violate New Mexicans’ inherent rights, liberty and privacy.

He also argued the action by the cities and county commissioners amount to overreach by attempting to legislate on a matter of statewide importance.

Lea County Commissioners, the county attorney and county manager are scheduled to have a closed session 9 a.m., Monday, Jan. 30, to discuss legal strategy and the county’s response to Torrez’s filing.

Dickson said in the end, Torrez’ filing could have an opposite effect than what the N.M. AG intends.

“This case will go through the litigation process,” Dickson said. “And we will see what happens before the Supreme Court of New Mexico and, possibly, before the Supreme Court of the United States which overruled Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). At the end of all of this we may be thanking Attorney General (Torrez) for ending abortion in America — we will all just have to wait and see.”

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