Democrats in the state Senate on Thursday won a decisive round in the long-simmering bout between pro-life and pro-choice forces.
And they did it without saying much at all.
Democratic senators in favor of Senate Bill 10 — which repeals a 52-year-old state law that makes it a felony to perform an abortion — simply chose not to debate the legislation, leaving frustrated Republicans to talk among themselves.
Outnumbered GOP senators clearly were unhappy with the strategy as the measure passed 27-15. “No more trying to justify anything, let’s just do it because we can,” Sen. Bill Sharer, (R-Farmington), said of Democrats unwillingness to engage in discussion about the bill on the Senate floor.
Though attempts to repeal the law had failed in the past, with eight conservative Democrats casting critical votes on a similar bill two years ago, the party’s ideological makeup in the Senate is now far different, far more progressive.
Republicans this year could only fight a defensive battle with little help from the other side of the aisle. GOP members spent much of the debate introducing amendments and substitute bills, many of which included a “conscience” clause allowing doctors to opt out of performing abortions.
They also offered up two pieces legislation setting limits on when a woman could have an abortion, going to 35 weeks with one amendment. But all those efforts failed with votes that ran mostly along party lines.
At certain times during a session that lasted more than three hours, members of both parties jousted over whether proper procedures were being followed in the introduction of those bills, confusing matters considerably at one point.
The final vote did not run entirely along party lines. Two Democrats — Sens. Pete Campos of Las Vegas and George Muñoz of Gallup — sided with Republicans in opposing the legislation. But even with those defections, the Democrats had the numbers.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to easily pass.
The action is a victory for pro-choice advocates who believe it is a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body, and for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who backs the measure. In a statement released shortly after the vote, the governor said the bill “affirms a woman’s self evident autonomy over her own body.”
Abortion-rights advocates are concerned the federal courts could undermine or overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made performing an abortion legal. Proponents of the bill worry the 1969 law criminalizing abortion could become enforceable again if the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
At the outset of Thursday’s floor debate, Sen. Linda Lopez, (D-Albuquerque), the main sponsor of the bill, introduced it in both Spanish and English. “We can hold our own moral values on abortion and still trust a woman,” she said.
She then turned the floor over to several other female senators from her party, who related personal stories of having to make their own decisions regarding difficult health care choices — though none involved abortion. “We need to leave individual health care decisions to a woman and her doctor, not allowing politicians to stand in the way,” said Sen. Carrie Hamblen, (D-Las Cruces). “I, as a woman, should have the power to control what happens to my body. This is something no government should have a say in.”
Then, in a rare move for a floor debate, Lopez chose not to say anything else about the bill. Repeatedly asked by Republicans to weigh in on the bill, she “respectfully” declined to comment.
Lopez could not be reached for comment after the vote.
Many Democrats — perhaps realizing they had the numbers to pass the bill, or perhaps just tired of debating the merits of the legislation — took a cue from Lopez’s lead and clammed up as well.
At one point, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, asked if any of the bill’s 28 sponsors [five are House members and thus were not present on the Senate floor] would stand up and talk about the bill.
When no one took up the challenge, Brandt said, “I think that says everything we need to say,” then added their silence was reason enough to throw out the bill.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, (D-Santa Fe), said during a Thursday news conference he expects Senate Bill 10 to land on the House floor soon, though it will likely go through at least one House committee for vetting. “We’re not sure exactly yet, when we’re going to be meeting on the floor of the House next week,” Egolf said. “If we have a meeting late in the week, we might be able to send a bill to the governor then. If not, very early in the week following.”