New Mexico AG wants to codify abortion rights, lift bans

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — New Mexico’s chief attorney on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to overturn abortion ordinances that local elected officials have passed in conservative circles in the Democrat-led state in recent months.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez asked the Supreme Court to crack down on regulations it says go beyond local government agencies regulating access to health care and violate the New Mexico Constitution’s 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 state constitution does not allow any city, county or individual 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 not clear how quickly the New Mexico Supreme Court could decide to take up the matter. Torrez said he hopes his petition to the Supreme Court will result in a quick response within weeks or months — to avoid the potentially years-long process of pursuing a civil suit.

The filing affects 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 with officials in the four communities on Monday.

In 2021, the Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 law that banned most abortion procedures. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wants to see legislation codifying abortion rights statewide — following the US Supreme Court decision last year that ruled Roe v. Wade picked up.

Lawmakers have already proposed measures that would bar local governments from restricting access to abortions – and are calling for safeguards for doctors and patients.

In November, the all-male Hobbs City Commission voted to pass an ordinance that would ban the operation of abortion clinics in that community.

In a statement released after the vote, Lujan Grisham – who posed as a staunch supporter of access to abortion procedures during her re-election campaign – said the regulation was an “affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and the Southeast of New Mexico and we will not condone it.”

In June, the governor signed an executive order barring cooperation with other states that might interfere with access to abortion in New Mexico and refusing to execute future warrants by other states related to anti-abortion regulations. The order also barred most New Mexico state employees from assisting other states in investigating or sanctioning local abortion providers.

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

The Clovis regulation passed at the beginning of January is also intended to prevent new clinics from being opened. It faces a petition challenge, but Mayor Mike Morris said he believes voters there would vote overwhelmingly to keep the ordinance if it was on the ballot.

Days later, Roosevelt County followed with an ordinance of its own that banned the operation of clinics, restricted the supply of abortion-related supplies and medicines, and gave individuals the power to sue anyone they suspect of violating the ordinance.

In the court 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 the city and county commissioners amounted to exaggeration in attempting to legislate on a matter of statewide concern for which lawmakers have anticipated local regulations.