Otero County commissioners vote to ban voluntary abortions, abortion clinics

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OTERO COUNTY, N.M. — The fallout from the repeal of Roe v. Wade continues to be felt in New Mexico.

Otero County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Thursday naming their county a “sanctuary for unborn life.” The resolution essentially bans voluntary abortions, abortion clinics, and miscarriage-inducing medication.

During the meeting there was plenty of opposition.

“I believe this is a misguided political stunt and religiously misrepresents the faith,” Otero resident Michael Drinkwater said.

“I am not Christian, I am atheist, I don’t prescribe to any religion. You cannot force me to prescribe to your religions rules,” Shayna Young added.

Out of the more than 20 public comments at today’s county commissioner meeting, a majority were against the resolution.

“I urge you to in the strongest possible terms to vote against its passage, thank you,” Nancy Gregory said as she ended her three minute public comment.

But there were also those who wanted to voice their support.

“I am a pro-life advocate and believe life is precious at all stages,” resident John Block said.

“It is the understanding of the law life begins when the infant is in the mother’s womb by the law that life is protected,” Ben Luna read from his prepared speech in front of the county commissioners.

Many community members voiced their concerns this resolution would limit a woman’s access to life-saving medical procedures if her pregnancy put her life in jeopardy. There is a clause in the resolution that states abortions would be allowed in a hospital, not a clinic, if it will save the mother’s life – or in instances of rape or incest.

“Three years ago, when this came up, it was the first year Griffin and I were on the board. I was against it, I was against it for two reasons – medical issues with the baby or if the mother had issues, two, was rape or incest. This now has this incorporated in it,” District 1 Commissioner Gerald Matherly said.

With those changes added to the resolution, it passed unanimously. Afterwards, Couy Griffin made an announcement.

“I would like to just put one more call out to commission boards across the state of New Mexico to get the same type of resolution passed in their counties,” Griffin said.

While abortion is technically legal in New Mexico – there are few, if any, regulations on the books. The legislature repealed an abortion ban in 2021 but it was never replaced with anything.

After the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the Supreme Court, New Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order further protecting abortion access. But no congressional action has been taken.

Leaving measures, like the one Otero County just passed, in a sort of legal limbo.

After the resolution passed, many are saying this bill wont hold up in court – including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who calls this decision a political stunt.

“This action has no effect whatsoever and I think it is another desperate cry for attention,” Lujan Grisham said.

So it the Otero County “sanctuary for unborn life” legal? KOB 4 sat down with UNM Law Professor Maryam Ahranjani.

“I think it is important to understand that the court did not say that abortion is illegal, it just said the Constitution, five judges agreed the federal Constitution, does not explicitly mention or protect the right to abortion and it is still up to state to determine,” Ahranjani said.

After the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the Supreme Court, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order further protecting abortion access.

“I really think it is going to come down to the details of what exactly the ordinance says and potential legal claims in terms of where those parts of the ordinance may violate existing law,” Ahranjani said.

Ahranjani said in New Mexico abortion is legal. The state does have some protections in place – protections that can’t be overturned by county or city officials

“I do believe, ultimately, it will be unenforceable if this goes to the court, that that the ordinance will not be upheld. But the real shame in these instances is the waste of taxpayer dollars to defend those suits for the county, to have to defend themselves and hire attorneys,” Ahranjani said.

This is also why both supporters and opponents of abortion access want the state legislature to put some sort of law on the books the next time it meets.