By Elizabeth Secor
Five female state representatives, all women, want to make sure New Mexicans have full access to birth control, abortion and gender-affirming health care. Their proposal, (HB 7) is aimed at preventing any part of state or local government from interfering with access to these services or discriminating against people who use them.
“What this bill does is it removes any fear of prosecution or persecution from public bodies or municipalities… and for a person’s decision to utilize care or refuse reproductive or gender-affirming care,” co-sponsor Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, said in an interview.”
The bill received opposition and close analysis from the three Republican representatives on the committee, who said they disagreed with much of the wording.
“The way [the bill] reads now, as unclear as it is, I don’t see how I can support that,” Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, said during the meeting.
The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act was introduced after several communities in southeastern New Mexico passed bans on abortion services. But it goes further than that.
“Those local ordinances are designed to create an atmosphere of shame and stigma,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Colation for Reproductive Choice.
“Then people have difficulty accessing all kinds of reproductive health care,” including birth control, prenatal care and miscarriage management, Lamunyon Sanford said.
A legislative analysis of the bill cited data showing that 45 percent of gay, lesbian and trans people say they have experienced discrimination or harassment at work.
Access to drugs and procedures that help people physically present as their preferred gender reduces risks of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicide, the state Human Services Department reported in the analysis.
“As we’ve seen across the country, there are different limitations and bans on abortion, politicizing gender-affirming care as well,” Serrato said. “And we know that getting reproductive health care, getting gender-affirming care can be life-saving, literally.”
For example, having plastic surgery to create more feminine facial features can help transitioning individuals “pass” as women and reduce the risk of discrimination and violence, HSD wrote.
The bill is intended to make sure New Mexicans get to make those decisions without interference from the government.
“What HB 7 does is put control of those reproductive health decisions back into the hands of the people where it belongs, back into the hands of individuals and families who will make a decision according to their own faith and values, not according to the faith and values of local politicians,” Lamunyon Sanford said.
The bill passed two House committees on party-line votes and now heads to the House floor where Democrats outnumber Republicans 45–25.
Elizabeth Secor is a reporter for New Mexico News Port. Follow her on Twitter @esecor2003