A bill to prohibit public bodies from discriminating against individuals seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare passed the state Senate on a 23 to 15 vote on Tuesday after a contentious debate.
HB 7, Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care, is sponsored by state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe. State Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, who worked on the bill ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, led the debate on the Senate floor.
The bill generated a nearly three-hour debate over issues various Republicans have brought up previously in committee hearings: parental consent, the gender-affirming healthcare model, conscientious objections by medical providers and the definition of the term “perinatal.”
The bill prohibits public bodies and individuals acting on behalf of a public body from discriminating against individuals seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare. This includes abortion. It is one of two reproductive healthcare bills this session designed to ensure further protections are in place in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Since then, Clovis, Hobbs, Roosevelt and Lincoln counties have passed ordinances to prohibit abortion medication to be mailed and have established ordinances requiring what some have called a “licensing scheme” to prohibit abortion clinics from establishing in those communities, which are close to the state’s border with Texas to the east.
“A public body shall not impose policy conflicts with this act so as not to create a checkerboard of access throughout this state,” Duhigg said during her opening remarks.
She went over amendments worked out in earlier committees, which included adding language that ensures the bill cannot be interpreted to mean an insurance mandate for abortion and amended language that explicitly states that any provider not already providing this care is not required to affirmatively do so because of the bill, if enacted.
The bill also provides a right for an individual to seek civil suit as well as the right for a district attorney or the attorney general to seek suit against a public body but no individual acting on behalf of the public body can be sued.
The bill allows for the court to award attorney’s fees if the plaintiff is successful. Duhigg said that is to enable individuals to seek action against discrimination without having to wait for the government to take action.
Some Democrats took exception with some of the Republican legislator claims or comments during the debate. When state Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, tried to connect the state’s abortion policy to victims of the Holocaust, Duhigg said that as a Jewish person, she found it “really offensive when folks trot out the Holocaust to make a political point.”
State Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, told her coming out story to talk about how the words that Legislators use during debate matter.
“I had to come out myself to this nurse. She did not have the tools to approach what my healthcare options should be. As public leaders, we need to really be aware of how powerful our words are….I encourage this body to really consider our words; when we’re denying a person’s existence, we’re denying them their humanity and the right to live their truth,” she said.
State Sen. Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque, asked Duhigg if abortion bans can impact access to other forms of reproductive healthcare.
Duhigg pointed to the fact that abortion bans in other states have forced pregnant individuals to travel to New Mexico for abortion and because of the time sensitive nature of abortion care, providers lack the “bandwidth” to deal with other forms of reproductive care.
Pope said the Black maternal mortality rate is four times higher than the overall maternal mortality rate in New Mexico.
“If we criminalize reproductive healthcare, women can be denied more care on the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including abortion,” he said.
State Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, called the bill a “huge piece of mental health for those who are transgender.”
“Think about our grandchildren and their ability to have freedom and not psychological pressure, which will lead some to suicide. Think about the need for self regard and to have a happy life without mental pain,” Hickey said.
State Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, asked if an obstetrics doctor in her community does not want to provide abortion, would the bill require the doctor to do so.
Dughigg said “nothing in this bill requires anyone to do anything outside their scope of practice.”
Kernan also asked if she owns property in her community and she refuses to sell that property to an individual she does not want to sell to, would that put her in violation of the bill if it is enacted.
Duhigg said no, it would not.
State Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said “I don’t believe you can legislate to change people’s minds.”
Duhigg later said she agrees with Woods that legislation “can’t change people’s minds.”
“This isn’t going to change minds but it can change behavior and ensure public bodies aren’t able to use their power to block access to life-saving care and discriminate against New Mexicans,” Duhigg said.
Republicans attempted seven amendments, all of which failed. State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, tried to amend the bill to strike the word “perinatal.” He also tried to strike right of the court to award the prevailing plaintiff. State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, tried to strike the right of private action entirely. State Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, tried to insert a conscientious objector clause for medical providers and strike gender-affirming healthcare. Gallegos tried to insert a provision requiring an ultrasound before an abortion. State Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, tried to insert age-consent requirements.
The bill heads next to the House floor for a concurrence on the amendments and then, if it passes, it will head to the Governor’s desk next. Maddy Hayden, spokesperson for the Governor’s office, said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham “remains fully supportive of the bodily autonomy of women and efforts to preserve that right.”