New Mexico governor signs bill to shield abortion providers

Apr 5, 2023, 2:32 PM

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discusses legislative accomplishments on Saturday, March 18,...

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discusses legislative accomplishments on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico's Legislature approved a $1.1 billion tax relief package at the close of its annual session as lawmakers tapped a financial windfall from oil production to break through entrenched cycles of poverty. National tensions over voting rights, abortion access and gun safety were on prominent display during a 60-day legislative session. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

(AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Wednesday that protects providers of abortions from related prosecution, professional disciplinary action or extradition attempts by out-of-state interests.

A companion abortion-rights bill signed in March guarantees access to reproductive health care in response to a string of anti-abortion ordinances by cities and counties in eastern New Mexico where opposition to abortion access runs deep.

New Mexico is increasingly seen as a destination for abortion patients traveling from states including Texas that have banned abortion, or those imposing major restrictions.

“I think there is a lot of fear there,” said Democratic state Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City, a school psychologist and cosponsor of the newly signed bill. “We want to make sure New Mexico is a state that is safe for women and safe for health care workers.”

The new law also protects medical providers when it comes to gender-affirming health care without regard to the age of patients, in a counterpoint to new laws restricting or banning such care in at least a dozen other states. Indiana’s Republican governor signed a bill Wednesday banning all gender-affirming care for minors.

Gender-affirming health care is defined under the New Mexico legislation as psychological, behavioral, surgical, pharmaceutical and other medical treatment for distress caused by a person’s gender assigned at birth not matching the gender with which they identify.

Lujan Grisham has framed safeguards for abortion access in New Mexico in a broader context as a cornerstone of women’s equality and democratic engagement.

She said Wednesday that medical professionals need legal protections to ensure continued public access to abortion in the tumultuous wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion and allows states to set limits on access.

“This is a state that’s going to stand with the men and women who provide our care. We’re clear about our rights. We’re clear about our choices,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference alongside eight female state legislators who sponsored abortion-access legislation. “If we don’t protect providers, you can say they have access (to abortion) when it fact you do not.”

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

More recently, two counties and three cities in eastern New Mexico adopted ordinances that restrict abortion access, reflecting deep-seated opposition to offering the procedure.

The New Mexico Supreme Court last week blocked those local anti-abortion ordinances pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the state attorney general.

Eve Espey, chairwoman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico, said the law signed on Wednesday guards against attempts to sanction or discipline medical professionals involved in abortion procedures.

“Now we can tell our providers that we can continue to do this work,” she said at Wednesday’s news conference.

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New Mexico governor signs bill to shield abortion providers