More Than Meets The Eye?

Bill that bans late-term abortions also allows pharmacists to object giving out certain medication

A bill that would ban abortions after a fetus reaches 20 weeks of gestation got predicted opposition from Democrats before passing the House Judiciary Committee—but not for the usual reasons.

Steve Allen, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, was the first to bring up a tucked-in provision that gives pharmacists the right to refuse abortion medication to women based on personal and religious beliefs.

"There's lots of reasons our organization opposes this bill," Allen told the committee, "but one aspect particularly troubling is the expanded religious exemption."

Currently, hospitals can refuse to perform abortions based on religious exemption statutes. But the late term abortion ban, sponsored by state Rep. Yvette Herrrell, R-Otero, expands that provision of the law by adding the "any pharmacist or any person under direction of a pharmacist" can refuse to dispense medicine that results in "the termination of a pregnancy." The bill defines pregnancy as the "implantation of a developing embryo."

"I think this bill does much more than raise the issues addressed by its supporters," State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe said. "The extent and reach of this is vastly broader than I have heard anyone discuss it at all."

Egolf argued that the bill's terminology in the medicine exemption provision is so broad that it can apply to women early in their pregnancy. A pharmacist could, for example, decide under personal beliefs not to give out the morning-after pill to a woman on her first day of pregnancy, Egolf argued.

That's because a pharmacist, he argued, can under the bill decide decide "whether there has been implantation of an embryo."

"I can imagine that the morning-after pill, if a doctor writes a prescription of that, then we're going to get into a legal discussion," Egolf said.

Two pills, Plan B and RU-486, are used in last-minute cases. Plan B prevents ovulation and fertilization. RU-486, known as the abortion pill, ends pregnancies that are seven weeks or younger.  Plan B is available without a prescription over the counter, but patients with insurance coverage can only access that benefit by using a prescription. 

The bill passed committee on a party line 7-6 vote. It now goes to the House floor.

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