Abortion is not restricted in NM. But is it protected?

Lawyer implores lawmakers to make abortion rights explicit in light of the case before the Supreme Court

By: - December 2, 2021 6:01 am

Demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 when justices also heard arguments in a Mississippi case that seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Photo by Jane Norman / States Newsroom)

It’s not time to panic. But stay vigilant. 

That’s the advice for abortion rights supporters from Jessica Serrano, an attorney with the Southwest Women’s Law Center, for anyone in New Mexico following the Supreme Court hearing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Oral arguments were presented yesterday on the case, the outcome of which could potentially end 50 years of guaranteed abortion rights. 

The Supreme Court is determining the constitutionality of the Mississippi law to ban abortions after 15-weeks of pregnancy. The law is not in effect and has been blocked by lower courts. 

We are lucky to live in a state where we do not have antiquated laws that will strip us of our rights to get an abortion. But I would absolutely implore New Mexicans to reach out to their legislators and try to get enough support to put something on the books that explicitly gives that right.

– Jessica Serrano, Southwest Women's Law Center

Today, New Mexico does not have any laws that limit when a person can have an abortion. But if the court rules in favor of Dobbs, it could allow states around the country to enact laws that limit abortions services or prohibit them completely. 

“It could be very scary if you were in a state like Texas. But when you’re in a state like New Mexico, you go, ‘Wait a second. What does that mean for me?’ ” Serrano said. “The sky is not going to fall, but they will have some work to do to make sure that rights are protected.”

Serrano was part of the coalition that passed legislation last year to repeal an old and outdated state law that restricted abortion, despite the federal protections in place through Roe v. Wade

“We are actually a little bit ahead of it, because we’ve already repealed our pre-Roe law that criminalized abortion to some degree,” Serrano said. “And what that means is that we’re fairly insulated in New Mexico. We’re fairly safe here.” 

But the case just puts everybody here on edge  a little “because you look across the border to Texas,” she said.

Other states still have those laws on their books, Serrano said, and that creates a precarious situation as the Supreme Court decides this case. 

The New Mexico constitution could also offer some protections with the Equal Rights Amendment that took effect in 1973 and says “Equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person.” But that would be a new argument for the courts to determine, Serrano said. 

“It seems to maybe extend it into bodily autonomy and liberty for people,” she said. “So if you think about the Equal Rights Amendment and that aspect, maybe it could extend to include the right to abortion. And obviously, it hasn’t come up yet.”

Now, she says it’s imperative for the state’s legislators to pass a law explicitly protecting the right to an abortion, something she argues would protect services in New Mexico even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

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“We are lucky to live in a state where we do not have antiquated laws that will strip us of our rights to get an abortion,” she said. “But I would absolutely implore New Mexicans to reach out to their legislators and try to get enough support to put something on the book that explicitly gives that right.”

While the Supreme Court will likely not have a decision on Dobbs until next year, this leaves places like New Mexico left to speculate about what will happen nationally while providers here continue to offer the medical procedure.

In the scenario where Dobbs moves forward and other states begin to restrict abortions, places like New Mexico could end up in the sights of more abortion opponents. Serrano says it would also be wise for the state to pass a law protecting local clinics from agitators or protestors. 

“My personal concern is I wonder how long until people start targeting our providers here in New Mexico, as in protesting — especially in the wake of a possible Roe overturn,” she said. “I wonder if it puts sort of a target on us … for people to start harassing abortion providers.”

With New Mexico’s political environment, it’s likely there will be a strong effort to halt any erosion of abortion access in New Mexico — even if the Supreme Court opens the country to the possibility of checkerboard laws around the U.S.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.