Bill protecting reproductive health care rights passes Senate after lengthy debate

Democrats block seven Republican attempts to change legislation

By: - March 8, 2023 5:00 am

An attendee at the rally for reproductive rights in Albuquerque’s Tiguex Park holds up a pro-abortion rights sign Friday, June 24. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)

Despite repeated failed attempts from Republican senators to alter a bill protecting abortion and gender identity health care rights, House Bill 7 is now one stop away from heading to the governor’s desk.

It took an hourslong, back-and-forth, heated debate to pass the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care bill through the full Senate on Tuesday. It got through by a 23-15 vote.

All Senate Republicans present voted no. Sen. Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas) was the only member from the majority party to vote against the bill. Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque), Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) and George Muñoz (D-Gallup) didn’t vote since they were excused.

That was the bill’s second-to-last stop in the Roundhouse. Because of amendments made in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full House has to approve it again before it lands on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk, where she is expected to sign the legislation.

Under this bill, public entities cannot discriminate against or interfere with someone’s access to reproductive or gender-affirming health care, either directly or indirectly. That includes abortion and pregnancy prevention care as well as medical services provided to support a person’s gender identity.

“We can ensure that public bodies who are supposed to keep all of us safe aren’t able to use their power to block access to life-saving care and discriminate against New Mexicans,” said bill sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque). 

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This would apply to local or state governments, or state-established commissions or boards that receive state funding, like school districts or universities. Individuals acting on behalf of or within the scope of a public body would also be tied to these rules.

This legislation follows and could override bans or restrictions on abortion care enacted recently by local cities in New Mexico. Duhigg said that’s created a patchwork of access to health care across the state.

“I want to make sure that every new Mexican has the same access to care that I have had,” she said.

Sen. Brenda McKenna (D-Corrales) said the bill is particularly timely to address gaps in health care access. She asked what kinds of barriers people face to get abortions, and Duhigg listed a number of things, including paying for health care services, travel, food, any overnight needs and childcare services.

“It’s so urgent that we have legislation like HB 7, to respect our fellow New Mexicans,” McKenna said in response.

The bill also aims to protect reproductive health care services in rural New Mexico specifically. Duhigg said those areas have long lacked access.

There’s still a health care provider shortage affecting the state that’s been around since before the pandemic. With an influx of patients coming in from neighboring states with abortion bans, the worker shortage is also impacting access to care.

New Mexico abortion clinics strained over capacity with out-of-state patients

Sen. Harold Pope (D-Albuquerque) asked how abortion bans affect the ability to get other kinds of reproductive health care. Duhigg said pregnancy is a timely issue that providers may need to address first, meaning anyone coming in for that from out of state may push other preventative care to the side. 

“When you have an abortion ban, you’re going to have less reproductive health care for everyone,” she said.

Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) said reproductive health care is readily available and accessible throughout New Mexico. However, only the state’s major cities have facilities that offer medical abortion services.

Diamond said this bill is just a direct response to “locally elected officials representing and carrying the voice of their constituents that they don’t want to offer” abortion services.

Other details in the bill

The bill lays out that health care providers have no duty to provide these reproductive or gender-affirming services if not required by state or federal law, if it goes against the provider’s medical judgment or if the patient doesn’t pay.

Some Republican lawmakers had misconceptions that this bill would force health care providers to give abortion-related services. Duhigg reiterated multiple times that this legislation doesn’t not contain that language.

“Nothing in this bill requires anyone to do anything that is already outside of their scope of practice,” she said.

Another stipulation clarifies that insurance companies don’t have to pay for the services if it’s not already covered in their patient’s contract or by state or federal law.

Why people may be getting abortions came up too.

Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington) said many women feel pressured into having abortions, but multiple female senators stood up and said abortion is a decision that’s taken seriously. Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City) said it’s dangerous to women and health care providers to insinuate otherwise.

“It’s really important to understand that the decision to have an abortion is a deeply personal decision, heart-wrenching decision that women make,” Correa Hemphill said. “And these are not decisions that are made lightly.”

NM religious leaders show public support for abortion

If the bill’s signed into law and public bodies violate it, the attorney general or a district attorney could take them to court and pursue a civil penalty fine of $5,000 or greater actual damages. People wouldn’t be able to sue individuals, including medical professionals, under this version of the legislation.

The legislation also requires that a losing defendant must pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs. Amendments from Sens. Sharer and Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) failed to strike that portion out.

“This ensures that no matter what your economic situation is, you can go to the courts and enforce your rights in the state of New Mexico,” Duhigg said.

Other amendments by Republican senators that didn’t pass included measures that would’ve required parental consent for minors, labeled anyone seeking gender-affirming care with gender dysphoria or gender incongruence, and required anyone seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound first.

Democrats rejected seven amendments in total.

“This law isn’t going to change minds,” Duhigg said. “But what we can do with this law is change behavior.”


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.