SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After passing the New Mexico House in February, a bill changing gender-affirming, reproductive healthcare laws passed the state Senate Tuesday. Hours of debate preceded the vote, with supporters calling the legislative effort support of life-saving care. Opponents say the legislation will infringe on parents’ rights and could hurt children.
Sponsored by five Democratic legislators, House Bill 7 prohibits public entities (like cities and counties), and those acting on behalf of public entities, from discriminating against someone because they use or refuse reproductive health care services. That includes abortion and fertility treatment among other services.
The legislation would also prohibit public entities, and those acting on behalf of public entities, from interfering (even indirectly) with a person’s access to reproductive healthcare. And the bill would ensure similar protections for people seeking gender-affirming care. In the bill, that’s specifically defined as: “psychological, behavioral, surgical, pharmaceutical and medical care, services and supplies provided to support a person’s gender identity.” That includes treatments like prescribing puberty-related drugs among many other services.
As the bill hit the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers on both sides shared extensive opinions and heated debate about the legislation ahead of a vote. The bill passed the House on a 38-to-31 vote two weeks earlier with no Republican votes in favor and six Democrats voting against the bill.
During Tuesday’s debate, Sen. Katy M. Duhigg (D-Bernalillo & Sandoval) explained that the bill doesn’t require doctors to do anything outside the care they already give. “All this law does is it says that a public body can’t block access to that care. It does not require that a provider affirmatively provide it,” Duhigg explained.
“What this bill does is it ensures that local governments can’t block access to that [reproductive or gender-affirming] care,” Duhigg added during the discussion.
Multiple amendment attempts, accusations
Sen. William E. Sharer (R-San Juan) tried to amend the bill to remove the term “perinatal” from the bill, which states the “perinatal” care is a type of reproductive health care. Sharer said that the term “perinatal” means ‘after-birth,’ arguing should not be part of the definition of “reproductive health care” within the bill.
“That’s not an abortion. That is also not women’s healthcare,” Sharer said. “That is infanticide.”
Sen. Ortiz y Pino (D-Abq.) responded to Sharer’s comments, arguing Sharer’s definition is. “It does not mean after birth. It means the period surrounding birth. So, it involves weeks before, during, and after birth, and it’s a term used inclusively to cover all aspects of providing care to a mother giving birth or to somebody who is having difficulty with the pregnancy.”
Quoting the Bible to add emphasis to his point, Sharer stood firm in his belief that the bill would allow infanticide if passed. His amendment to remove “perinatal” ultimately failed.
Further responding to Sharer, Sen. Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo) said it was “offensive” to “hear an amendment explained in such a misleading and false way.” Sharer fired back, arguing that he didn’t lie.
Following Sharer, Sen. David M. Gallegos (R-Eddy & Lea) tried to amend the bill to require an ultrasound before an abortion. That amendment also failed.
In another attempt at amending the bill, Sen. Gregg Schmedes (R-Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe & Torrance) introduced language that would allow healthcare providers to opt-out of providing care by saying their conscience disagrees with the type of care being provided. Sen. Duhigg replied that “it’s already true that any provider would not have to do anything against their conscience” under existing state and federal rules and laws.
“What I’m concerned about with this amendment is that what this is allowing is for somebody’s religious beliefs to determine whether or not I get reproductive care or any health care,” Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Doña Ana) said. Ultimately, Schemedes’ amendment on conscientious objections failed.
Republican Senator Crystal Diamond of Truth of Consequences argued she had not had enough time to see the bill. She also offered an amendment to require parental consent for minors to get healthcare under the bill.
Opposing the idea, Duhigg argued that the amendment would conflict with existing laws. And Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Catron, Grant & Socorro) noted that not all kids have parents or adults that they can rely on for help with healthcare. Diamond’s amendment ultimately failed.
The Effect on Abortion
In continued debate, Sen. David M. Gallegos expressed opposition, saying he’s heard estimates that New Mexico could see 9,000 abortions as a result of the legislation. Gallegos did not provide a source for that number.
Gallegos then compared those abortions with the loss of life caused by the Holocaust. “If you look backwards, the Holocaust was five to 6 million Jews,” he said. “New Mexico would have reported that amount [of abortions] in about six years,” according to his unsourced numbers.
Duhigg responded: “As a Jewish person, it is really offensive when folks trot out the Holocaust to make a political point.”
Ultimately, the majority of the Senate voted in favor of the legislation, with 23 votes for it and 15 against according to a count from Sen. Mimi Stewart. None of the amendments debated on the Senate floor Tuesday were approved.
“This law isn’t going to change minds, but what we can do with this law is change behavior,” Duhigg said as a closing note. “We can ensure that public bodies, who are supposed to keep all of us safe, aren’t able to use their power to block access to life saving care and discriminate against New Mexicans.”
While the bill already passed the House two weeks ago, the legislation will have to return to the chamber due to some changes made to the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both the Senate and the House ultimately must approve the bill with the exact same wording. If that happens, then the bill will head to Governor’s desk.