New Mexico bills safeguard abortion, gender-affirming care
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico legislative panel advanced a bill to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state interference, prosecution or extradition attempts, as Democratic leaders seek to shore up existing rights to abortion access for residents as well as visitors from states with bans on the procedure.
A 5-3 vote on partisan lines with Republicans in opposition sent the bill to a second committee hearing before it can go to a full Senate vote. Legislators have until March 18 to send the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won reelection last year on pledges to safeguard abortion access.
Lujan Grisham joined a group of 20 governors this week in launching a network intended to strengthen abortion access in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court decision nixing a woman's constitutional right to end a pregnancy and shifting regulatory powers to state governments.
A bill from New Mexico legislators including Democratic state Sens. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and Brenda McKenna of Corrales would provide new legal protections for local abortion providers and recipients — prohibiting any related discrimination by local medical licensing boards and banning or limiting cooperation by New Mexico state and local government with out-of-state interests that try and interfere with reproductive health care.
"We want to make sure that our providers are protected so that they are not criminalized by Texas or some other state," Lopez told a Senate panel.
Public prosecutors can file civil charges linked to interference with reproductive health care, with fines for convictions of up to $5,000 per violation, and $10,000 for attempting to circumvent some provisions. Individuals can sue independently for damages.
"What we don't want to see in our state ... is providers paranoid when they do their jobs, and patients paranoid," said Kat Sánchez of Bold Futures, a New Mexico-based abortion rights group.
The New Mexico state House on Tuesday endorsed companion legislation that would ensure statewide access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care, on a 38-31 vote. At least two counties and three cities in eastern New Mexico recently approved restrictions on abortion under ordinances that are being challenged by New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez.
Both bills extend similar protections to gender-affirming health care as abortion. Gender-affirming health care is defined broadly in the bills as "psychological, behavioral, surgical, pharmaceutical and medical care, services and supplies provided to support an individual's gender identity."
More than a dozen states have bills to prohibit gender-affirming health care for young people being brought before legislatures this year. Some seek to ban treatment for gender dysphoria — which is defined as the distress caused by a person's gender assigned at birth not matching the gender with which they identify — until the person is in their 20s.
Republican state Sen. Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras, a surgeon by profession, cautioned New Mexico Senate colleagues Wednesday against writing into law a "specific health care model" concerning gender-affirming care, and expressed fear of an ideological divide on medical care.
"We have to learn how to live together. We have to be neighbors with Oklahoma and Texas," Schmedes said. "This bill kind of scares me in a way that we're headed toward that national divorce that people are talking about."
In 2021, New Mexico's Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures, ensuring access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case.