New Mexico Supreme Court blocks local abortion ordinances
Fri, Mar 31, 2023 7:32 PM
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court blocked local anti-abortion ordinances Friday pending the outcome of a case centered on constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
The ruling granted a request by Democratic state Attorney General Raúl Torrez and follows the state's recent adoption of a new abortion rights bill signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham just weeks ago that overrides any local ordinances aimed at limiting access to abortion procedures and medications.
The state already had one of the country’s most liberal abortion access laws, but two counties and three cities in eastern New Mexico recently adopted restrictions that reflect deep-seated opposition to offering the procedure. Torrez's petition and the legislation that was passed during the recent 60-day legislative session aim to override those ordinances and prevent other counties from adopting abortion restrictions.
The goal is for New Mexico to remain a safe haven for women seeking abortions, Torrez said in a statement Friday.
The legislation and the petition “will make it clear that everyone in the state of New Mexico has a protected, constitutional right to make their own healthcare decisions,” he said. "Given the attacks we are seeing in Texas and across the country, I am proud to stand with our Legislature and the governor to continue this fight.”
Democratic governors in 20 states this year launched a network intended to strengthen abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision nixing a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. The decision shifted regulatory powers over the procedure to state governments.
In 2021, the Democratic-led New Mexico Legislature repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, ensuring access to abortion even after the federal court rolled back guarantees. The governor also signed a series of executive orders that, among other things, barred state cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access.
The changes over the past two years have prompted more providers to relocate to New Mexico and bring patients with them.
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic relocated to southern New Mexico. Tele-health provider Choix, based in San Francisco, became licensed last year to operate in New Mexico.
One of the largest abortion providers that had operated in Texas opened a new clinic in New Mexico’s largest city last week. Officials with Whole Woman’s Health said more than a dozen patients walked through the doors of the Albuquerque clinic in the first week, all of them from Texas. For some, it required a road trip that spanned about 900 miles (1,448 kilometers).
“And everybody who cared for the patients was also from Texas. It was remarkably meaningful for the staff. It was Texans serving Texans,” said Whole Woman’s Health President and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller. “It was just an emotional day for everybody.”
Whole Woman’s Health started a fundraising effort last summer to help with the costs of moving equipment and supplies from Texas to New Mexico and for the purchase of a building to serve as its new home.
New Mexico's governor also has pledged to spend $10 million to build a new abortion clinic in the southern part of the state near El Paso, Texas.
In its order, the New Mexico Supreme Court outlined a schedule for the ongoing case over the ordinances in the cities of Hobbs, Clovis and Eunice, and in Lea and Roosevelt counties. It said briefs due in April should address what, if any, effect the new abortion rights law will have on the case.
In an earlier brief filed with the court, a coalition of anti-abortion organizations argued that the attorney general bypassed ordinary litigation procedures by filing the emergency petition in hopes of having the court declare a new constitutional right without the benefit of a lower court taking up the issue.
Erin Hawley, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the groups, suggested Friday that it would be “a massive error from the New Mexico Supreme Court if it was to create a so-called ‘right’ to abortion out of thin air.” She also took issue with the legislation barring local ordinances that limit access.
“State legislatures should be affirming that life is a human right and ensuring that women and families facing unplanned pregnancies have real support,” Hawley said.