EDGEWOOD, N.M. (KRQE) – With a 4-to-1 vote, Edgewood is the latest community to pass a local ordinance that could restrict access to abortion medication. In a town commission meeting that went well past midnight, commissioners approved an ordinance that town leaders say is going to bring a lot of trouble for Edgewood.
The idea is to let locals bring civil lawsuits against anyone who violates a federal law passed in 1873, known as the Comstock Act. Supporters of such ordinances argue that shipping abortion medication is illegal under that federal law. But across the U.S., others have argued that the federal law has been narrowed over the years and rarely enforced.
Edgewood politicians wrestled with the implications of the proposed ordinance. Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Powers said lawsuits seem almost inevitable, which is why he said it’s important that the ordinance is ultimately supported by community members.
“I think it will have more force and effect with the state – if we’re going to step into a lawsuit immediately . . . [and ] that’s what our attorneys tell us – then we need the support of the entire community,” Powers said during the meeting.
The fight over such ordinances is already ongoing in other parts of New Mexico. The state Supreme Court ordered some locales to suspend local abortion-related ordinances while lawsuits over the ordinances are processed. Powers said it’s a risk for Edgewood to approve their ordinance before those other legal battles are worked out.
“The consequence of this has been laid out by the attorneys. Jumping into this battle, and not waiting it out for the couple of months for the Supreme Court, could be pretty serious to Edgewood,” Powers said. “And when I say serious, I mean serious.”
The commissioners debated sending the proposal to a people’s vote in a special election. By the end of the night, they decided instead to approve the ordinance and put it into effect essentially immediately. But it’s not clear exactly how much effect it will have.
Even though the ordinance passed, the municipality still doesn’t have the power to enforce it, according to Mayor Pro Tem Powers. “It’s not cut and dried like people thought, [that] they were going to vote to get rid of abortion,” Powers said. “The town can’t enforce it.”
But the ordinance does send a message, Commissioner Sterling Donner said. “What this does is it paints a picture for anybody that’s looking at possibly moving into Edgewood, painting this as not a friendly place for them to be – that we do not want them here,” Donner said. “This has teeth.”
Even though the ordinance has been passed by town commissioners, Edgewood residents do have the power to collect signatures and submit a petition to effectively ask the commission to veto the ordinance, according to Mayor Audrey Jaramillo.