New Mexico Supreme Court hears arguments on local anti-abortion ordinances
Attorney General Raúl Torrez argued Wednesday in the New Mexico Supreme Court that local ordinances restricting abortion are unlawful, while attorneys for conservative counties and cities argued that such ordinances were merely requiring potential abortion providers to abide by federal law.
Although abortion is legal in New Mexico, a number of local governments have passed ordinances restricting access to the procedure. The attorney general in January asked the state supreme court to strike down those local rules, and in Wednesday's hearing he argued the justices had a number of grounds to do so.
One is a law known as House Bill 7, passed by state legislature earlier this year, which prohibits bodies including local authorities from interfering with access to reproductive healthcare.
"The terms of House Bill 7 simply foreclose the opportunity for enactments of this type," said Torrez.
He also argued that local authorities cannot regulate health care.
"The enactment of these ordinances is clearly preempted by the state's decision to foreclose to local governments the opportunity to set independent licensing requirements for physicians," he said.
He asked the justices to make a broad ruling, and find that access to abortion is a right in New Mexico, which has an equal rights clause in its constitution. He said that in the wake of the Supreme Court of the United States eliminating the federal right to an abortion last year, there has been national uncertainty.
"I think the court should at least consider whether or not there is independent constitutional basis for announcing a basic proposition that women in this state have a constitutional right under the Equal Rights Amendment to access reproductive health care as a threshold," he said.
Attorneys representing Lea and Roosevelt counties and the city of Hobbs responded. Valerie Chacon, representing Hobbs, said that the ordinance there did not restrict abortion access, merely regulated businesses providing abortion.
"We have the inherent right to create ordinances that regulate business," she said.
Chief Justice Shannon Bacon seemed unconvinced.
"The licensure overlay here is, frankly, the argument is a ruse. It's designed to prevent any provider or clinic from offering reproductive health care," she said.
Justice Bacon concluded the hearing by saying that the court would take the matter under advisement and did not indicate when it might reach a conclusion.