From right, Speaker of the House Javier Martinez, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (black shirt), former Rep. Brian Egolf, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury stand to applaud a line about abortion rights during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address on Jan. 17, 2023 in Santa Fe. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
Cheers filled the House chambers in Santa Fe on Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she wants to expand protections for abortion services and care in the state.
“We do that, and we make it clear to practitioners, to women and families that in every corner of this state: Your body autonomy and your health care choices are in fact your own,” the governor said.
Of course not everyone stood to applaud and celebrate. Republicans facing the governor from the one side of where she stood at the dais didn’t clap much during her first State of the State since winning re-election in November.
The large majority of Democratic elected officials just made it seem that everyone was in support. Democrats control the House 45-25 and Senate by 27-15. Most GOP senators were not even in attendance during her speech, which outlined executive priorities on topics such as education, tax reform, public safety and health care.
“I’m going to ask you,” Lujan Grisham said to lawmakers, “to make good on our commitment to invest $10 million in full-service, reproductive health care — a center right in southern New Mexico.”
When Lujan Grisham said “While we’re at it, let’s codify abortion rights into state statute,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver leaped out of her seat in celebration. Three seats down, U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernandez shared the enthusiasm. Next to the freshly re-elected congressional members sat Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, also applauding the proposals to expand and protect reproductive rights statewide.
Someone who couldn’t stand to cheer was Rep. Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe). At the time Lujan Grisham delivered her line, Serrato was seated in her chair rocking her sleeping daughter Alma. Regardless, Serrato is a leader in the House and standing up in another way to help the governor meet her promise on abortion access.
Families were in attendance for the first time since COVID closed the Roundhouse to the public. Serrato’s daughter made it through most of the festivities but took a nap in her mother’s arms about halfway through the governor’s speech.
This week, Serrato intends to file legislation meant to stop local municipalities from passing restrictions on abortion services and care.
“You don’t want there to be a checkerboard of where it’s legal and where it’s not. What if you are in Roosevelt and you go to a doctor in Clovis, but then you get your prescription filled in Portales,” Serrato said. “A checkerboard makes it very difficult for everyone to understand what their role is and what they’re able to access.”
Several towns in New Mexico passed ordinances limiting services, or outright banning practices, even as the state government vows to keep reproductive health care available for anyone — whether they are in-state or crossing state lines for services.
“We want consistency,” Serrato added, “so that patients, providers — anybody in this entire system understands how that works.”
Her efforts will be matched by a proposal expected to be filed by Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) called the Reproductive Health Care Protection Act.
In short, it codifies protections for providers in the state, similar to the contents of an executive order by Lujan Grisham in April, shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned federal protections for abortions.
These two pieces of legislation are supported by the Democratic majority in both chambers and are anticipated to pass without much opposition, thought there could be lengthy debate. The measures also have support from community advocates, clinicians and others that are on the front lines of ensuring New Mexico offers safe access to abortion care.
“These are the two most critical things that we need to do this year to continue to protect abortion care in our state,” said Kayla Herring, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Serrato and advocates also want to make sure there is enough of a workforce to meet the increased demand of abortions services in New Mexico as surrounding states criminalize it post-Dobbs.
“There’s no way that New Mexico or any other state could manage the capacity of care that has been provided in those banned states,” Herring said. “And so we’re doing everything we can to care for as many patients as possible. But there are millions of people who have lost access in their home states.”
House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe) said there will be discussions about meeting those needs during the budget process. New Mexico has more than $3 billion in surplus money to spend, however Szczepanski was unclear on the details about how much money will be directed to reproductive care, or where it will go.
“New Mexico will continue to be a beacon for health care services for the country. And we need to be ready to meet that role,” Szczepanski said. “I think in terms of the budget, in terms of reimbursement rates, in terms of all of the above, you’ll see a lot of activity.”
In her speech Tuesday launching the 60-day legislative session, Lujan Grisham also called for lawmakers to sign off on the creation of a new state department, the Health Care Advisory Authority, an umbrella agency that the governor said “puts all our health care services under one roof and brings us a step closer to universal health care in New Mexico.”
Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is the only state where more than half of the population is on Medicaid and this new health agency is committed to making all health care services accessible. She wants to use billions in federal investments to ensure this right.
“If we believe in equality, like we say we do,” she said, “And if we believe in justice like we say we do, we ought to make sure that every new Mexican of every background and circumstance can access high-quality care.”
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