NM Guv Enacts Protections for Abortion Seekers, Providers

Executive order aimed at shielding state from other states’ anti-abortion laws

New state protections enacted today are intended to shield New Mexico health care workers who provide reproductive health services to out-of-state residents, as well as those who come here seeking abortions.

Specifically, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order this afternoon aimed at protecting health care providers from discipline due to out-of-state residents receiving abortion services in New Mexico, and also makes clear the state will refuse to cooperate with extradition attempts from other states pursuing criminal charges against anyone receiving or performing reproductive services.

The order additionally states that no executive state agency or any employee or person acting on behalf of an executive state agency will “provide any information or expend” any time, money or other assets to help another state further a proceeding or investigation in which they seek to impose a criminal or civil liability, or a professional sanction, for anyone receiving or providing reproductive health care services. The executive order also directs the Superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department to work with the various licensing boards to create policies to “ensure that no person shall be disqualified from licensure or subject to discipline” as a result of other state’s sanctions or charges related to providing such services.

“It’s still shocking, frankly, that we’re having this conversation,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference with other reproductive health advocates from Planned Parenthood, ACLU and NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “But we will not further imperil the rights and access points of anyone in the state of New Mexico. As I’ve been saying all weekend: As long as I’m governor, everyone in the state of New Mexico will be protected. Out-of-state residents seeking access will be protected. Providers will be protected, and abortion is and will continue to be legal, safe and accessible.”

The executive order comes in the wake of the June 24 US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and ending a 50-year-long constitutional right to abortion. Last year, in anticipation of the court’s action, New Mexico’s legislators repealed a 1969 state law that had criminalized abortion in the state.

Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, signed into law similar executive orders on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Those orders reflect the rapidly changing and uncertain landscape for abortion services following SCOTUS’ reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Abortion is now illegal in nine states, with more bans pending and several court battles in the offing. New Mexico is one of 20 states, plus Washington, DC, with access to abortion and one of just seven without a gestational limit.

The state has already seen an influx of patients since Texas enacted a ban on abortions after six weeks last September; that state has a “trigger” law that will go into effect 30 days after last Friday’s ruling effectively banning all abortions.

More pointedly, both Texas and Oklahoma have laws allowing private citizens to sue people who perform or help others access abortion services. It remains to be seen if states will pass laws intended to criminalize people who seek abortions out of state, or those who help them in other states. (In his concurring opinion, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that in “my view” states would not be allowed to bar people from traveling to other states for abortions “based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”)

But how that will play out remains to be seen. State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the lead sponsor of last year’s bill repealing criminalization of abortion in the state, said during today’s news conference she and others want to make sure those coming to the state seeking abortion services “are safe…We know that other states will be trying their hardest to criminalize this action. And we need to make sure that our professionals and those within our borders are protected. And I know this will do that. There’s much more to come.”

Lujan Grisham said she did not anticipate needing to call a special legislative session in advance of next year, though she added: “We’re going to have to wait and see what other surprises are potentially in store from the Supreme Court.”

Nonetheless, she said she anticipated a push for additional public health funding “to make sure that we are engaging in provider access and support,” as well as educational campaigns. And while abortion is legal in New Mexico, she added, “I am sure that we are going to look to codify it…We’ll make sure that we just do that. And we might want to buttress some other potential losses by the Supreme Court at the same time. It may not be the only issue; I would say same sex marriage: Codify that.”

Ellie Rushforth, a reproductive rights lawyer with ACLU New Mexico, told SFR the decision represents not just a “looming public health crisis” but a “constitutional crisis” as well. During the news conference, she noted that SCOTUS had dealt “a devastating blow to equality in this country...You cannot have a functioning democracy without the ability to make a…personal reproductive health care decision. And at the ACLU, we are doing everything we can in collaboration with leadership, with our allies, with our partners, to ensure that no one is criminalized no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money they make, from making private medical decisions.”

The governor said today “one thing to add that I have not worked through with my own legal counsel,” is “how you define Safe Harbor. While I’m protecting providers by executing to the degree that I can successfully and legally, in this executive order, the fact that other states can prosecute families here, New Mexicans for…a personal health care choice by another state resident, gives me heartburn. And I want to think about things that we might do in that space. And I would expect I’m not the only governor thinking about that in this moment.”

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and a national coalition of 22 attorneys general today issued a joint statement “reaffirming their commitment to supporting and expanding access to abortion care,” which reads, in part, that regardless of the SCOTUS decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, “broad access to abortion remains protected in states that recognize reproductive freedom, such as ours. We refuse to go back to the days of politicians trying to tell people what to do with their bodies. When it comes to abortion care, it’s your body and your right to choose. Nobody else gets to make those decisions.”

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