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New Mexico AG seeks to codify abortion rights, nullify bans

by The Associated Press | January 24, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico's top prosecutor on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to nullify abortion ordinances that local elected officials have passed in recent months in conservative reaches of the Democratic-led state.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez urged the high court to intervene against ordinances that he said overstep local government authority to regulate health care access, and violate the New Mexico Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.

At a news conference, Torrez said the ordinances are significant even in regions with no abortion clinics because they threaten to restrict access to reproductive health care in people's homes. More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills rather than surgery.

"This is not Texas. Our State Constitution does not allow cities, counties or private citizens to restrict women's reproductive rights," Torrez said in a statement. "Today's action sends a strong message that my office will use every available tool to swiftly and decisively uphold individual liberties against unconstitutional overreach."

It's not clear how soon the New Mexico Supreme Court could decide to take up the issue. Torrez said he hopes his petition to the Supreme Court will inspire a quick response within weeks or months -- avoiding the potentially yearslong process of pursuing a civil lawsuit.

The filing targets Roosevelt and Lea counties, and the cities of Hobbs and Clovis -- all on the eastern edge of the state near the Texas border.

Messages seeking comment were left Monday with officials in the four communities.

In 2021, the Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wants to see legislation that would codify the right to an abortion across the state -- in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers have already proposed measures that would prohibit local governments from placing restrictions on abortion access -- and call for putting in place protections for doctors and patients.

In November, the all-male city commission in Hobbs voted to adopted an ordinance designed to block abortion clinics from operating in that community.

In a statement issued after the vote, Lujan Grisham -- who cast herself as a staunch defender of access to abortion procedures during her reelection campaign -- said the ordinance was an "affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and southeastern New Mexico and we will not stand for it."

In June, the governor signed an executive order that prohibited cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access in New Mexico, declining to carry out any future arrest warrants from other states related to anti-abortion provisions. The order also prohibited most New Mexico state employees from assisting other states in investigating or seeking sanctions against local abortion providers.

She followed up in August with another executive order that pledged $10 million to build a clinic that would provide abortion and other pregnancy care in southern New Mexico.

The Clovis ordinance, approved in early January, also seeks to keep new clinics from opening. It's facing a petition challenge, but Mayor Mike Morris said he thinks voters there would overwhelmingly vote to keep the ordinance if it were on the ballot.

Days later, Roosevelt County followed with its own ordinance prohibiting the operation of clinics, restricting the delivery of abortion-related supplies and medicines, and giving private citizens the power to sue anyone they suspect violated the ordinance.

In the court filing, Torrez argues that the New Mexico Constitution provides broader protection of individual rights than the U.S. Constitution -- and that the local ordinances violate New Mexicans' inherent rights, liberty and privacy.

He also argued that the action by the city and county commissioners amount to overreach by attempting to legislate on a matter of statewide importance for which the Legislature has preempted local regulation.

Print Headline: New Mexico AG seeks to codify abortion rights, nullify bans

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