NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Torrez has filed an extraordinary writ in support of women’s rights to reproductive health care. The petition filed in the supreme court seeks to clarify the constitutional basis under the New Mexico Bill of Rights, which provides enhanced guarantees for people’s protection and privacy.
The filing also seeks to stop Roosevelt County, Lea County, Hobbs, and Clovis from passing ordinances that restrict access to abortion in their communities.
“This is not Texas. Our state constitution does not allow cities, counties, or private citizens to restrict women’s reproductive rights,” said Torrez in a news release. “Today’s action should send a strong message that my Office will use every available tool to swiftly and decisively uphold individual liberties against unconstitutional overreach.”
Just one day after what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Torrez announced he’s trying to block cities and counties from restricting abortions. Recently, Roosevelt and Lea counties – as well as the cities of Hobbs and Clovis – passed ordinances based on a 19th-century federal law prohibiting the shipment of abortion medication and supplies.
However on Friday, Torrez said they didn’t have the legal right to do that: “It is simply inappropriate, unlawful, and unconstitutional for local governments to use their limited authority to try and create a patchwork of regulation which would deny women access to essential healthcare services in their community.”
The ordinances came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision overturning Roe v. Wade, leading states to regulate access to reproductive health care. “The action we have taken today intends to do exactly that,” Torrez says. Torrez says the writ focuses on two things: “Number one: are these counties acting within their authority to regulate access to reproductive healthcare? And number two: are they infringing on a constitutional right guaranteed by the New Mexico Constitution?…Simply put, local communities are not empowered to regulate medical services; they are not empowered to regulate access to health care.”
Mike Morris, the mayor of Clovis, says his city commission was simply representing the interests of their community. “There’s a lot of folks in Clovis and eastern New Mexico that stand in opposition to abortion and they’re not seeing those values represented at the state level and they want a voice,” says Morris.
Torrez argues the elected officials in these communities are misreading the 19th-century law, and that it doesn’t apply in this case. “It’s unfortunate that these communities have a, let’s say a misinformed interpretation of a 19th-century federal statute that was passed long before these questions were fully deliberated by the supreme court,” Torrez says.
He also says that the state has the power to give people rights that might not be recognized at the federal level. “The federal constitution provides a floor if you will for the basic guarantees that are afforded to citizens in this country. But it doesn’t provide for a ceiling. Meaning that states like New Mexico and the constitutional structure that we have: we have the ability to provide enhanced rights and guarantees that may not be recognized at the federal level,” Torrez says.
Christopher Mills, a city commissioner in Hobbs, disagrees, saying that federal law trumps state law. “I think if a law’s on the books, it doesn’t matter how old it is. It’s still an enforceable law. Obviously the legislature and the congress can update the laws and they should update the laws. Their lack of workmanship and not keeping everything up to date is not what we have to decide. We have to use the laws that are on the books and enforce those,” Mills says, “The congress is more than welcome to update that at any point and they’ve actually chosen not to do so. They’ve updated language on that specific section recently and they did not choose to remove that language so that would seem like their legislative intent was to leave it in there.”
Torrez ended his news conference Friday with this message: “I want one thing to be abundantly clear, that the Attorney General’s Office stands foursquare behind this effort to make sure that women in every corner of the state have access to reproductive healthcare; that they control these decisions; and that they won’t be interfered with by local governments who believe they shouldn’t be allowed to exercise that right.”
From here, the state supreme court can either accept or deny the petition. If they accept it, both sides will have to argue their case. Torrez says by filing an emergency petition like this, he hopes they can get a resolution quickly, possibly before the legislature takes up abortion access this session.
In a statement, the City of Hobbs responded to the attorney general’s action:
“Today the City of Hobbs was made aware of an Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Request for Stay filed with the New Mexico Supreme Court by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. City Attorney Efren Cortez states, “Our hope was that prior to any court action, we would have been contacted by the Attorney General’s Office to discuss the substance of the City of Hobbs Abortion Business Ordinance. Such a conversation could have served to remedy any misunderstanding regarding the effect of the Ordinance. We have been transparent with our legal analysis through numerous public meetings and fulfilled public records requests. We have been abundantly clear that the Ordinance does not ban abortions in Hobbs. Quite to the contrary, the Ordinance anticipates an abortion clinic will establish a location in Hobbs and sets minimum requisites for obtaining a business license to operate. With regard to some of the public comments made by the AG, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that abortion is a very emotional topic. On the heels of recent despicable acts of violence towards elected officials in Albuquerque, we have the opportunity to soften the divisive rhetoric among New Mexicans. I will certainly look to the AG’s leadership to set the example for the rest of the State.”
City Manager Manny Gomez states, “To date, the City Clerk’s Office has not received any business applications for prospective abortion providers. The City of Hobbs team respects all people, irrespective of their beliefs. Our team remains steadfast in our mission to provide the best customer service possible to the residents of Hobbs, New Mexico. We pride ourselves on inclusivity, and we welcome any person to our team that wants to help Hobbs become a better place to live, work, and play.”
Mayor Sam Cobb states, “Our legal team presented the legal analysis for the City of Hobbs Abortion Business Ordinance in at least two public meetings. The analysis was thorough and transparent. Our Commission invited extended public comment on the issue and heard hours of testimony. Through this process, we learned our constituents were overwhelmingly in support of the Ordinance. The Commission honored the wishes of the public by enacting the Ordinance on November 7, 2022. The Ordinance does not ban abortions or abortion clinics in Hobbs. I would invite anyone that has heard otherwise to read the Ordinance in detail. Importantly, the City of Hobbs unequivocally supports women and women’s rights. The future of our City, our County, and our State depends on the ability of us all to work together to find common ground – even on issues that stir emotion.”