Forty years after Roe v. Wade, abortion rights advocates across the state are planning to celebrate the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling this week.
But in the state Legislature, opponents of abortion rights have crafted a proposal that imposes new limits on abortions in New Mexico. State Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Chaves, has introduced a bill called the "Woman's Right to Know Act"—which, among other things, would require doctors to show and describe ultrasounds to women seeking abortions.
Dauneen Dolce, the executive director of the Right to Life Committee New Mexico, says the bill isn't seeking to legally bar abortions, but would rather give women "the information that they need to know."
"[We're] seeking a solution, and this is one of them," Dolce, who lobbies at the Roundhouse and whose organization brought the bill to Espinoza, tells SFR.
The bill would require any woman who wants an abortion to have an ultrasound, and that the image be displayed for her to see. Although the patient is allowed to avert her eyes from the ultrasound image, physicians would have to describe to her "what the ultrasound is depicting."
Then, if the fetus is at least eight weeks old, the physician must use a handheld monitor to make the heartbeat of the fetus audible to the patient. If the attempt by the doctor or "certified technician" doesn't produce an audible heartbeat, he or she must offer to attempt it again at a later date. The patient is allowed to refuse to hear the heartbeat.
In addition, doctors must inform women of the "medical risks" associated with abortion—"including, when medically accurate, the risks of infection, hemorrhage [and] breast cancer"—at least 24 hours before the procedure is conducted. In effect, this would impose a minimum 24-hour waiting period between when a women decides to seek an abortion and when she is allowed to have one, with an exception for medical emergencies.
But according to the National Institutes of Health, abortion is not associated with any increased risk of breast cancer. Dolce also mentions "post-abortion syndrome"—a post-traumatic stress disorder-like condition that is commonly cited by the pro-life movement, but isn't recognized by the American Psychiatric Association nor listed in the DSM-IV.
Abortion rights proponents say the bill goes to extremes. Dana Middleton, president of the Santa Fe chapter of the National Organization for Women, refers to the bill's provisions as "degrading and inhumane."
"We're horrified," she tells SFR. "This is the worst language I've ever seen in a bill."
Adriana Ramirez de Arellano, a University of New Mexico anthropology assistant professor with a background in feminist jurisprudence, says the bill is discriminatory to women and is "tapped to guilt and shame that is religiously based."
"It is obvious it is intended to curtail women the right given to them on Roe v. Wade," she tells SFR.
Espinoza, however, describes it as a women's rights bill.
"You're giving them all the information," she says. "It's wise. It's just like when you're making a major decision on anything, you want to be informed of exactly what you're doing before making your final decision. It's nothing against women; it's keeping women informed."
She denies that the bill is anti-abortion.
"We make it an issue of those that are for abortion or against abortion," Espinoza says. "This is not that. It's just, bottom line, keeping the woman informed. So when she makes her decision there's no regret [and] she made a good decision, period."
Under the bill, if the patient still decides to go forward with an abortion after the "informed consent" process is complete, she would then have to provide her doctor with a certificate proving she "has been furnished with the required information" before having an abortion.
The bill also requires the state Department of Health to establish a website with a list of pregnancy services; images showing fetal development in two-week increments; and descriptions of the types of abortions "commonly employed" at each stage of pregnancy. The bill imposes minimum resolution, image and text sizes for the DOH website.
Abortion providers with websites would be required to link to the informed consent materials, and doctors would have to file reports "to demonstrate that they have provided the required information to pregnant females and to provide statistics on informed consent for abortion." Any medical provider who fails to follow the Woman's Right to Know Act could be charged with a felony; submitting a false report to DOH would be a misdemeanor.
The bill currently sits before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-2. One committee member, state Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, describes the logic behind the bill as "women are so stupid we can't trust them." Chasey, an advocate of abortion rights, also chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill will go if it passes through CPAC and another committee.
"The bill implies that women and their doctors don't discuss these things, and that women are uninformed and the doctors are incompetent," Chasey tells SFR. "And if that were so, doctors wouldn't be able to practice medicine."
At 1:30 pm on Friday, Jan. 25, pro-choice groups will rally at the Roundhouse to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade; visit nowsantafe.org for more information.