SANTA FE, New Mexico — A bill to shore up abortion rights in New Mexico by repealing a dormant ban on most abortion procedures won Senate approval on Thursday, clearing a crucial hurdle in a 25-17 vote.
Female senators took the lead in presenting the Democratic-sponsored bill that would repeal a 1969 statute. Left in place, the state abortion ban might go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.
“I am supporting this bill because we need to leave individual health care decisions to a woman and her doctor,” said Democratic Sen. Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces.
Republican senators were joined in opposition to the bill by two Democratic senators — Pete Campos of Las Vegas and George Muñoz of Gallup.
Efforts to overturn the abortion ban are supported by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Senate-approved bill moves to the Democrat-dominated state House, where it has support from a broad majority.
New Mexico’s move to ensure future abortion access provides a counterpoint to 10 states where outright abortion bans have been proposed this year, as Republicans vow to test where the Supreme Court stands after the appointment of three conservative justices by former President Donald Trump.
Debate on the bill and a series of failed Republican amendments and substitutions lasted more than three hours, amid heated exchanges that touched on Roman Catholic theology and rights of privacy. Republicans harshly criticized the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, for declining to answer questions and engage in open debate about the bill.
Lopez was unapologetic in a brief concluding statement.
“I appreciate some of the mansplaining on the Senate floor today regarding reproductive choice,” Lopez said. “We can hold our own moral values on abortion and still trust a woman, a pregnant person and her family, to make that decision for themselves. Reproductive rights are human rights.”
The partisan dividing line on abortion has become more pronounced in New Mexico in recent years.
Five incumbent Democratic senators who joined with Republicans to uphold the dormant state abortion ban in 2019 were ousted in last year’s Democratic primary election.
Among Republicans, state Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell was compelled last week to leave the state GOP after casting a vote favorable to abortion rights in committee. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
New Mexico’s 1969 abortion statute allows medical termination of a pregnancy with permission of a specialized hospital board only in instances of incest, rape reported to police, grave medical risks to the woman and indications of grave medical defects in the fetus.
The law has been dormant since 1973, when the nation’s highest court issued the Roe v. Wade decision, overriding state laws that banned or severely restricted access to abortion procedures.
Pro-life legislators say a repeal would drive away from New Mexico valued medical professionals who are conscientious objectors to abortion procedures.
Republicans including Sen. Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras, a physician, pushed unsuccessfully for an amendment to the bill that would preserve a “conscience protection clause” in support of health professionals who oppose abortion on religious or moral grounds.
Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque said other provisions of state law provide conscience protections for physicians with moral or religious objections to abortion — and that opponents of the bill were engaging in lies and scare tactics.
Democratic Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe noted that a conscience protection clause for medical professionals was added to a similar bill in 2019 in the spirit of compromise — and that abortion opponents still voted the bill down.
The abortion debate was broadcast by webcast from a Statehouse building that is closed to the public as a precaution against the pandemic and encircled by fencing and police patrols because of security concerns linked to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In a statement, the governor applauded the outcome of the vote.
“This is a simple bill, and it is powerful in its simplicity,” Lujan Grisham said. “It affirms a woman’s self-evident autonomy over her own body. And it ensures no health care provider in our state may be criminalized for providing health care.”