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Edgewood passes ordinance restricting abortion access, despite legal concerns

Alice Fordham
Screenshot via Facebook
Edgewood's commissioners met for a session that stretched late into the night

The town of Edgewood early Wednesday morning passed an ordinance restricting the ability of abortion facilities to operate, despite concerns the move could embroil the town in legal battles.

Edgewood is following the cities of Clovis, Hobbs and Eunice, as well as Roosevelt and Lea Counties, in passing ordinances that cite federal law to restrict access to abortion, although the procedure remains legal in New Mexico.

However, Edgewood is the first place to pass such an ordinance since the governor signed House Bill 7 into law, which explicitly prohibits public bodies from interfering with access to reproductive healthcare.

Republican Representative Stephani Lord spoke at last night's town commission meeting.

"HB7 was set so that the progressives up in Santa Fe can dictate everything in all of New Mexico and leaves out the rural voice," she said. "You guys no longer have a real voice because you cannot say anything about abortion."

She urged the commission to pass the ordinance.

Divided views

During extensive public comment that heard arguments on both sides, some residents expressed concern that passing the ordinance would involve the town in potentially costly legal battles, as has happened elsewhere.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez is suing four other authorities who passed similar rules, while Eunice is suing the governor and the attorney general.

Some commenters thought the ordinance was a distraction from the commissioners' regular role.

"This site for arguing abortion is not Edgewood, it is the Supreme Court and it is the state of New Mexico," said resident Marcy Smith. "This town needs roads, it needs the library, it needs schools."

The meeting began at 5pm, but it was well after 1am when the commissioners voted by four votes to one to pass the ordinance.

As with the other local authorities which have passed similar ordinances, the Texan group Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn has supported the writing and passing of the rule.

At a separate town meeting earlier this month, a leading member of that group, former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, said that he hoped that these local ordinances would help bring a case with wide implications before the US Supreme Court.

Mitchell wants the court to rule on a 19th century federal law known as the Comstock Act, which he argues prohibits the sending of abortion drugs and equipment in the mail. The Department of Justice in a memo last year said the law does not prohibit the mailing of such drugs for legal use.

Mitchell outlined his strategy during the April 4 discussion.

"We bring these cases in New Mexico, we bring them in other states like Illinois, Texas, California, all over the place. And eventually there are going to be courts that have different interpretations of the Comstock statutes," he said, joining remotely.

"And then when that happens, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to have to step in to resolve that dispute."

He added that even if the ordinance was not implemented immediately, he believed it would still stop an abortion facility opening in Edgewood.

"I think that would deter an abortion clinic from opening because they don't know how the courts will ultimately rule on this question," he said.

"They wouldn't want to open up in a place like Edgewood, if they have this ordinance that's hanging over their head almost like a sword of Damocles."

Uncertain future

After the ordinance passed, Commissioner Ken Brennan, who voted for it, warned of the possibly long-lasting ramifications.

“This is going to be a long battle, it's going to be a long fight and it’s going to be expensive,” he said. “I’m holding everybody that has already said it today and in the last meeting that we had that they’re going to support us with their voices and their checkbooks.”

Commissioner Filandro Anaya supports abortion access and voted against the ordinance.

He said in an interview earlier Tuesday that it was, "an ordinance that's coming from an attorney out of Texas who doesn't even know where little Edgewood is at."

"They're basically using us as a pawn."

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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