On Friday, the New Mexico House of Representatives agreed to changes made to House Bill 7 by the Senate, approving the bill that aims to prohibit any branch of government or individual acting on behalf of the public body from denying an abortion to anyone who seeks one. It also attempts to prohibit cities from becoming “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”
Last Tuesday, the New Mexico Senate passed the Health Care Freedom Act (HB 7) in a 23 to 15 vote. Though the bill passed the House in February, it was returned to the House to be approved with the language changes made by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House approved those changes and now the bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Michelle Grisham. She is expected to sign it.
Under the bill, to “deny, restrict, or interfere” with an abortion attempt would be viewed as an act of discrimination, as would it be to “deny, restrict, or interfere” with a person’s desire not to have an abortion.
In addition, the bill states that a public body or individual acting on behalf of that public body “shall not impose or continue in effect any law, ordinance, policy or regulation that violates or conflicts with the provisions of the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act.” In essence, the bill is attempting to prohibit any pro-life law or ordinance — state or local.
The city of Clovis, New Mexico, became the 63rd “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” in January. Mark Lee Dickson, director with Right to Life of East Texas, told Live Action News, “The Clovis Ordinance is not an explicit ban on abortion, but what we call a de-facto abortion ban. The actual text of the ordinance does not explicitly outlaw abortion, but merely requires compliance with pre-existing federal statutes on abortion – specifically 18 U.S.C. sections 1461-1462 which prohibit the mailing or receiving of abortion-inducing drugs and abortion paraphernalia – which creates the same result of an explicit abortion ban.”
He added, “Despite the attempt of the New Mexico Legislature to stop the Sanctuary City for the Unborn movement in New Mexico, this law will not stop us.”
In a change made by the Senate, the current version of the bill states that nothing within it “shall be construed to require a health care provider or entity to provide care… that the health care provider or entity does not otherwise provide or a have a duty to provide under state or federal law” or when the abortion “is against the medical judgment of the treating health care provider while acting within the standard of care….” The Senate also changed the language to include a section stating health insurance companies can’t be forced to cover claims for services that are not required to be covered by their contract or by law.
If a public body is found to have violated the law, it could be subject to a $5,000 civil penalty or actual damages resulting from the denial of abortion. Claims of discrimination cannot be brought against individuals.
Jodie Hendricks, executive director of the New Mexico Family Action Movement, spoke against the bill, stating it would take away the right of local jurisdictions to make their own laws regarding abortion. “We do not believe that local governments and bodies should lose the right to determine what’s best with their communities,” she said.
Editor’s Note 3/14/23: This article was updated with more accurate information on the possible effects of the bill and a quote from Mark Lee Dickson.