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New Mexico Legislature votes to block local abortion bans

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An initiative that would shore up abortion access in New Mexico amid a flurry of local anti-abortion ordinances cleared a last major hurdle on Tuesday with state Senate approval.

New Mexico has one of the country’s most liberal abortion access laws, but two counties and three cities in eastern New Mexico have recently adopted abortion restrictions that reflect deep-seated opposition to offering the procedure.

Democratic state Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, urged colleagues to support a bill that would prohibit local governments from blocking access to reproductive health care, including abortion, birth control, and prevention of or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

“It ensures the local governments can’t block access to that care,” said Duhigg. “Your ability to access life-saving health care is really limited by your zip code right now.”

State Senate approval on a 23-15 vote nearly ensures the bill will reach Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a staunch supporter of abortion rights. The governor is one of 20 state leaders working together to strengthen abortion access. House approval of Senate amendments is pending before the bill can be signed.

The bill could impact abortion access for residents of neighboring states with abortion bans, including Texas.

The Democratic-sponsored bill would also ban local restrictions on gender-affirming care, which typically can include puberty-blocking medication, hormone therapy or surgeries. That provision is a counterpoint to proposed bans on gender-affirming care for minors or young adults in more than two dozen states.

An additional bill working its way through New Mexico's Legislature would protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state interference, prosecution or extradition attempts.

In 2021, New Mexico’s Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures, ensuring access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

The local ordinances adopted in New Mexico are similar to the effort to ban abortion in local jurisdictions by Mark Lee Dickson, founder of the Texas-based Sanctuary Cities of the Unborn organization.

Anti-abortion ordinances, adopted over the past several months by officials in the cities of Hobbs, Clovis and Eunice, along with Lea and Roosevelt counties, reference an obscure U.S. anti-obscenity law that prohibits shipping of medication or other materials intended to aid abortions.

An hourslong debate on the state Senate floor Tuesday was peppered with emotional stories in support and opposition to the bill that touched on personal and family decisions about abortion and health care in the wake of rape and gender identity for young people.

“My granddaughter was saved because my daughter came to us to ask for help ... I have one grandchild; I would have been without any," said Republican state Sen. David Gallegos, of Eunice, who unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to require an ultrasound be performed prior to abortions for mothers “to see the life of the child.”

Democratic state Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, of Silver City, said the bill would ensure medical care isn't withheld amid complex decisions about pregnancies.

“These are not decisions that are made lightly," she said. “Each pregnancy is unique and health care providers need to be able to provide the care that their patients need without government interference.”

Separately, Democratic state Attorney General Raúl Torrez has urged the state Supreme Court to intervene against local abortion ordinances that he says violate state constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.