NM Supreme Court hears arguments on local abortion restrictions

NM Supreme Court hears arguments on local abortion restrictions

A fight over abortion access came to a head in front of the state supreme court Wednesday.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A fight over abortion access came to a head in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court Wednesday.  

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed suit against four local governments, claiming their abortion ordinances are unconstitutional.

Torrez also argued these cities and counties overstepped their power and the ordinances violate state law.

KOB 4 was there as Supreme Court justices heard from both sides. The ability to limit access to abortion sat at the center of this hearing.

“Today, I think it was a historic moment for women in the state of New Mexico,” said Torrez. 

Torrez filed suit against Clovis and Hobbs, Lea, and Roosevelt counties in January. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, all four local governments passed ordinances limiting access to abortion.

Torrez argues they violate state law, and women’s rights under the New Mexico Constitution.

“Women in every community in the state of New Mexico have a constitutional right to access reproductive health care,” Torrez said.

He argued first during Wednesday’s hearing, and justices quickly brought up state law violations.

“House Bill 7 explicitly, to me, in my mind, is really your strongest argument here,” said Justice Briana Zamora. 

Lawmakers passed HB 7 during this year’s legislative session, called the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act.

It prohibits local governments from denying, restricting, or discriminating against someone’s right to reproductive health care. 

“Those who attempt to limit access to women’s health care have not and will not stop attempting to do so. And it necessitates this court’s explicit declaration of the fact that in New Mexico, abortion is health care, and that health care is protected,” said Rebekah Gallegos with Peifer, Hanson & Mullins. 

Representatives for the local municipalities disagree. They argued about the right to abortion in New Mexico, and the local governments’ ability to step in.

“New Mexico law gives counties the authority to make act, to take action, to protect the health and welfare, and the benefits that each counties’ inhabitants,” said Jeff Lucky, representation for Lea County.

They also argued the action is allowed under a federal law – the Comstock Act – that bans the mailing of abortion-related materials.

“Where in the Comstock Act does it allow local authorities to enforce it? Literally, the Comstock Act does not have that language,” said Lucky. “And where’s there a private right of action in the Comstock Act? I don’t believe we’re arguing that there is.”

Attorneys for the City of Hobbs argued they are simply business ordinances, and they have the right to regulate that. 

“We are okay issuing a business license to abortion clinics. We are not trying to ban abortion clinics whatsoever,” Lucky said. “You’re trying to ban their equipment and medication.”

Justice David Thompson brought up another question about equal protection:

“Has Hobbs currently regulated through a business license, have they, in the past in the future, regulated medical treatment and business license for medical treatment of a male?”

Torrez said in a news conference he was “very encouraged” by the justices’ responses.

The court is now considering the matter, there is no timeline on when we could hear a decision.