The question of whether or not to repeal a 50-year-old New Mexico State law can’t be answered until the Legislature convenes in mid-January of 2019, but you may hear a lot about it between now and Election Day in November.
The law in question, passed in 1968, criminalized abortion, meaning anyone who performed one in New Mexico could be charged with a 4th-degree felony.
In 1973, a physician in Lovington in Southeast NM, was convicted under the law. But by the time his appeal was heard at State Supreme Court, Roe v Wade had happened.
The Supreme Court’s decision that the choice of an abortion was protected by a woman’s right to privacy was recognized by the State Supreme Court and the conviction was overturned. And in a separate opinion, one of the New Mexico Judges, Lewis Sutin wrote that, after Roe v Wade, on the State level, “legislation which seeks protection of prenatal life should not be adopted.”
For 40 years, more or less, women in New Mexico have had relatively unimpeded access to abortion. In its most recent survey, NARAL, the nation’s biggest abortion rights advocacy group, found NM to be one of the states that still provided “protected access” to women seeking abortion.
NARAL based this judgment on New Mexico’s state Constitution and its Equal Rights Amendment, which says “protects the right to choose to a greater extent than the U.S. Constitution.”
But what if Roe v Wade is overturned? Confirmation of President Trump’s nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is, most political analysts say, all but inevitable, and say many legal analysts, Kavanaugh’s will be the vote that repeals freedom of choice.
Which could reinstate in New Mexico, that 1968 law threatening doctors who do abortions with jail. Which is why repealing the old law is a newly hot priority for Democrats in the State Legislature, and an issue many Democrats are already campaigning on.
The figuring is, abortion rights will play to the Party’s mainstream moderates and liberals, but perhaps more importantly, might be an issue that will get not-as-dependable younger voters to show up on Election Day.
On the other side, political organizers for the right-to-life movement see fighting off repeal of the 1968 state law to be a galvanizing issue for their rank and file. A campaign built on keeping alive the possibility of criminal prosecutions for abortions could produce for the movement more passion, more volunteers, and more contributions. If they can win on this issue, they can make repeal of Roe v Wade really mean something in NM.
Margaret Wright is a freelance writer and editor born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She has contributed to The (Santa Fe) New Mexican and the NM Political Report and has also worked as a teacher, social worker and waitress. She was promoted from contributor to managing editor of Albuquerque’s alt.weekly Alibi before going on to co-found the New Mexico Compass (R.I.P.), a digital news and culture outlet with an emphasis on mentoring fledgling journalists.