Aborted MissionOn the same frigid day in February when Gov. Martinez declared New Mexico’s natural gas shortages to be a state of emergency and sent most public employees home, the state Legislature was in full swing. At a meeting of the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee, a packed house awaited the discussion of HB 30, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Bernalillo, began his explanation of the bill with the heart-wrenching story of Sarah Lovato, a 17-year-old pregnant woman shot and killed by her then-boyfriend, Marino Leyba Jr., who worked for his father’s security company and carried a handgun. Prosecutors later said Leyba had specifically targeted Lovato’s unborn fetus.
The bill, Larrañaga told the committee, was for “little Isaac”—the name Lovato had planned to give the child.
“Mr. Leyba was initially charged with three counts of murder—but the third count was dropped because Isaac Lovato, little Isaac, was not covered under New Mexico law,” Larrañaga explained. “This law will address that specific issue.”
Several of Lovato’s family members spoke in favor of the bill, expressing their hopes that it would prevent other families from having to endure the same painful losses.
“We just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Lovato’s aunt, Diane, told the committee.
But to pro-choice advocates, preventing domestic violence through stiffer penalties for perpetrators wasn’t the bill’s true purpose.
“If we were really to prevent crimes such as the one that happened, we would be looking at regulation and licensing of security guards,” Diane Wood, the state director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told the committee. “I believe that the bill is being proposed to further the agenda of the anti-choice [movement].”
There are other concerns, too.
In a fiscal impact report, the state Public Defender Department states that the bill “raises serious constitutional issues” by defining an “unborn child” as any human fetus. In a nod to this concern, the committee amended the definition to include only fetuses more than 20 weeks old.
“It’s against the law—it’s against the Constitution, frankly—to criminalize an abortion,” committee member Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Bernalillo, noted. “We have to make sure that this language does not conflict with that principle.”
Credits: Alexa Schirtznger
But Dauneen Dolce, the executive director of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, an anti-choice political action group, and Allen Sánchez, the director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, came to express their support—and though both maintained the bill has nothing to do with abortion, Wood disagrees.
Larrañaga has sponsored other anti-choice bills in the past, she notes—a parental notification bill in 2007 and a nearly identical Unborn Victims of Violence Act in 2005—four years before the Lovato case.
Anti-choice advocates, Wood says, “have seized upon this tragic crime, have lined up the family to come relive it again—when we know that passing criminal bills doesn’t keep people from committing criminal acts.”
In the end, though, the committee approved the amended bill. Its next stop is the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee. (Alexa Schirtzinger)