New Mexico’s legislature has garnered nationwide headlines in secular and religious media, prompted by House bill 51, a bill that seeks to repeal several New Mexico statutes that criminalize abortion and which also address other matters. Some of the material affected by HB51 is unenforceable because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Other portions of the New Mexico statutes that some law makers want to repeal require parental consent for abortions, require abortions to be performed by a licensed physician, and specifically guarantee the ability of medical professionals and facilities to opt out of offering or performing abortions. If the legislature passes HB51 and the Governor signs the bill into law, those measures, as well as the unconstitutional portions, will be removed from New Mexico law.
Pro-life advocates claim the move is an effort to ensure the effect of Roe v. Wade even if the Supreme Court reverses its earlier decision - a possibility that some say is more likely with the current makeup of the court’s justices. If enacted, parental consent, the requirement of the procedure being performed only by a licensed physician, and the only New Mexico law specifically safeguarding medical professionals conscience on the abortion issue will be removed.
Expert testimony given by a lawyer with the Southwest Women’s Law Center, who spoke in favor of the bill at the Jan. 26 meeting of the legislature’s House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, said that another portion of New Mexico law would still protect doctors. However, that legal opinion has not been tested in New Mexico courts. Others have claimed that a physician’s conscience is protected by federal law, but those laws may apply only to medical facilities receiving certain federal funding.
The HCPAC passed a substitute version of the bill that included wording changes, but did not change the portions of law the bill would repeal. Though the bill is titled “Decriminalize Abortion,” the substitute bill removed the descriptive wording “…that criminalize abortion.”
The New Mexico Political Report reported that 70 individuals spoke against the bill at the HCPAC committee meeting, and 59 spoke in favor of it. Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico and New Mexico Alliance for Life put the number at around 100 individuals speaking against the bill. At press time, the House Judiciary Committee also had considered the bill, but no reports were available about its decision.
A Dec. 17, 2018, poll of New Mexico voters by Campaign Marketing Strategies, conducted for New Mexico Alliance for Life, provided a snapshot of current New Mexico opinions on the matter. The survey was released on Jan. 25, the day before HCPAC considered HB51. The poll reported that 44.4 percent of the state’s voters described themselves as pro-life, while 45.8 described themselves as pro-choice (9.8 percent of voters were undecided on the question). The poll’s margin of error of 3.44 percent makes the difference between the two groups negligible.
However, despite the close split between self-descriptions, New Mexicans answered in strong majorities when questioned about specific issues. New Mexicans who believed abortions after 5 months of pregnancy should not be allowed made up 69.8 percent of those polled. When asked if doctors, nurses, and hospitals should be “forced to perform abortions against their conscience or faith,” 72.4 percent said, “No.” To the question, “Do you believe a parent should be involved in a minor daughter’s abortion decision,” 67.1 percent of respondents said, “Yes.” House bill 51 counters each one of those significant majorities, rather than reflects them.
Among those who self-described themselves as “pro-choice,” 45 percent said that abortions should not be allowed after 5 months (20 weeks). On the question of forcing doctors, nurses, and hospitals to perform abortions against their conscience or faith, 53 percent said, “No.” Responding to the question about parental consent, 54 percent agreed that parents should be involved in a minor daughter’s abortion decision. When pro-choice respondents were grouped with undecided voters, the polling company noted that a majority of the combined group gave pro-life responses to each of the three questions.