Bills introduced to ban late-term abortions

Hannah Grover
Daryl Firestone holds an anti-abortion sign on Dec. 12 near the 2800 block of East Main Street in Farmington during a protest of Planned Parenthood.

FARMINGTON – Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, introduced two bills targeting late-term abortion Friday in the New Mexico Senate.

Senate Bill 243 would ban late-term and partial-birth abortions except for when the woman's life is in danger and, in those situations, the doctor would be required to do everything possible to save the baby's life. Senate Bill 242 has similar provisions, but also allows for late-term abortions if the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Both bills define late-term abortion as any abortion occurring after the woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks. Sharer said that date is based on the development of the fetus.

"It's got a heart and lungs and liver and a brain, toes and fingers," he said when reached by phone Saturday.

New Mexico is one of seven states that do not have restrictions on when a woman can obtain an abortion.

"A baby that will be born tonight will be killed this morning," Sharer said.

Southwestern Women's Options in Albuquerque is the only clinic in the state offering late-term abortions. The clinic offers abortions up to 28 weeks and will also offer later abortions based on the mother's health and the fetus' health, according to its website.

When contacted Friday, the clinic referred The Daily Times to the American Civil Liberties Union for comment.

Dr. Sandra Penn, a retired family physician in Albuquerque who has worked with the ACLU, said the bills would hurt women's reproductive rights. Penn said she went to speak to Sharer after hearing about the bills earlier in the week.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington

"It is so sad that people are so interested in not allowing women to make the decision about their bodies and their pregnancy," Penn said.

She said politicians should not make decisions influencing the medical field.

"Every pregnancy is unique," Penn said.

She said when she was a practicing physician, she saw women forego treatment for medical conditions because they didn't want to hurt the baby. She said some of those women died.

Last year, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved a bill prohibiting late-term abortions, but the bill did not pass the Senate.

Sharer is not optimistic about the chances of the Senate approving the bills he introduced Friday.

"If it moves through the Senate, it's because of divine intervention," Sharer said.

Diocese of Gallup Bishop James Wall wrote a letter on Jan. 21 to Catholics within the diocese asking them to pray for legislation that would "either limit or put an end to abortion."

"The greatest weapon we have in the battle against the ‘Culture of Death’ is to raise our hearts and minds to Heaven in prayer and a plea for a conversion of hearts," Wall wrote in his letter.

Suzanne Hammons, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said Sharer's bills are a step in the right direction.

"In our view, abortion does take a life," Hammons said.

She said the diocese also understands that not everyone sees the issue the same way and that the diocese does not want to impose its viewpoint on others.

"We understand the controversy behind this," she said.

In response to bills like Sharer's, community groups in New Mexico have launched the Respect New Mexico Women campaign. The groups also campaigned in 2013 to defeat a ballot measure in Albuquerque that would have banned late-term abortions in the city.

“New Mexico has long been a place where women from our communities could safely and legally have an abortion, and that must continue. While other states have enacted hundreds of anti-abortion laws, New Mexico has remained a place where a woman’s decision to end a pregnancy is respected and protected,” said Erin Armstrong, an attorney for ACLU of New Mexico, in a press release about the campaign.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.