ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico’s chief attorney on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to overturn abortion ordinances made by locally elected officials in conservative circles in the Democrat-led state.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez asked the court to challenge recent ordinances, which he says go beyond local government agencies to regulate access to health care and violate state constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
At a news conference, Torrez said the regulations matter even in regions without abortion clinics because they threatened to limit access to reproductive health care in people’s homes. More than half of abortions in the US are now performed with pills instead of surgery.
“This isn’t Texas. Our constitution does not allow cities, counties or individuals to restrict women’s reproductive rights,” Torrez said in a statement. “Today’s action sends a strong message that my office will use every tool available to swiftly and decisively uphold individual liberties against unconstitutional abuses.”
It’s unclear how soon the New Mexico Supreme Court will take up the matter. Torrez said he hopes his petition will result in a quick response within weeks or months.
The filing targets Roosevelt and Lea counties and the cities of Hobbs and Clovis — in eastern New Mexico near Texas, a state where most abortion procedures are illegal.
Clovis and Lea County officials declined to comment Monday, citing pending litigation.
Hobbs officials said they have been transparent in their legal analyzes at numerous public meetings and have complied with requests for public records. They deny claims that the ordinance prohibits abortions in Hobbs.
“The ordinance provides that an abortion clinic will establish a location in Hobbs and establishes minimum requirements for obtaining a business license,” the city’s statement said.
In Roosevelt County, officials called the issue contentious and complex and said they would respond through the trial in the state Supreme Court.
In Roosevelt County, where commissioners passed a resolution “in support of life” more than two years ago, sentiment about abortion runs deep.
It states that “innocent people, including fetal life, must always be protected and that society must protect those who cannot protect themselves,” adding that residents would be encouraged to help pregnant women in their search to help with medical care.
Prosecutors say abortion ordinances, approved by an all-male Hobbs City Council in November and Roosevelt County in early January, define “abortion clinic” broadly and include any building beyond a hospital where an abortion is performed — or where one is performed Abortion induced drug is distributed or ingested.
Torrez warned that the Roosevelt County abortion ordinance gives individuals the power to sue anyone suspected of violating the ordinance, seeking damages of up to $100,000 per violation.
“The threat of ruinous liability under the law prevents New Mexicans from exercising their right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy and from preventing health care providers from providing lawful medical services,” the attorney general wrote to the state Supreme Court .
In 2021, the Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 law that banned most abortion procedures and ensured access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade had picked up.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wants legislation that would codify abortion rights nationwide.
Lawmakers have already proposed action to ban local government restrictions on access to abortions – and call for more protections for doctors and patients.
In June, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order barring state cooperation with other states — including future warrants — that could affect access to abortion. The order also bars most New Mexico state employees from assisting other states in investigating or sanctioning local abortion providers.
She issued another executive order in August pledging $10 million to build an abortion and other pregnancy treatment clinic in southern New Mexico.
The Clovis ordinance, approved in early January, faces a petition challenge, but Mayor Mike Morris said he believes voters there would be overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the ordinance if it was on the ballot.
Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said Monday that commissioners in his community listened for hours to testimony and learned voters overwhelmingly supported the ordinance.
“The City of Hobbs unequivocally supports women and women’s rights,” said Cobbs. “The future of our city, county and state depends on the ability of all of us to work together to find common ground — even on issues that stir emotions.”
In his filing, Torrez argues that the New Mexico Constitution provides broader protections for individual rights than the US Constitution—and that local ordinances violate the inherent rights, liberty, and privacy of New Mexicans.
He also argued that the actions of city and county commissioners constitute an overstatement in attempting to legislate on a matter of statewide importance.
The attorney general asked the court to suspend local abortion ordinances while deliberations continue.
Susan Montoya Bryan and Morgan Lee are reporters for the Associated Press.