It took decades for the New Mexico Legislature to pass a bill repealing an abortion ban that was nullified just a few years after becoming law.
Shortly after noon Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took less than two minutes to sign Senate Bill 10, effectively striking the 1969 statute.
“A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement shortly after the brief signing ceremony.
“Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization,” she added. “New Mexico is not in that business — not anymore.”
The governor, wearing two protective face masks, signed the bill in a conference room off her fourth-floor office in a rare visit to the Capitol during an unusual 60-day session amid the coronavirus pandemic. The historic event, in which the governor signed the first high-profile bill of the 2021 session, came without the usual trappings. There were no lawmakers or advocates for the bill surrounding her and just two photography members of the media were present.
Friday was only the third time the governor has been in the downtown Capitol since the session began Jan. 19.
She also signed House Bill 11, which provides $200 million in grants to small businesses that have been hurt financially by the COVID-19 crisis. It is one of several measures aimed to ease economic strains on businesses and residents created by the pandemic and the state’s resulting business restrictions.
Lujan Grisham first appeared in the Capitol on the session’s opening day. Shortly after, she showed up to sign House Bill 1, which provided tens of millions of dollars to run the session, including funds for security measures still in place around the Capitol.
But SB 10 was the first prominent — and controversial — piece of legislation Lujan Grisham has signed. The law it repealed had made it a crime for doctors and other providers to perform abortions.
The House of Representatives and the Senate voted mostly along party lines to support the legislation, with Democrats in both chambers far outnumbering Republicans.
Charlene Bencomo, executive director of the nonprofit women’s advocacy group Bold Futures, said in an interview Friday the governor’s signature means “New Mexico can remain a place where people can be respected to make their own decisions about their bodies.”
Steve Pearce, chairman of the state’s Republican Party, called Friday “a sad day for New Mexico.”
“When Gov. Lujan Grisham penned her name to Senate Bill 10, she signed a death warrant,” Pearce said in a statement. “… The new law is an immoral, dangerous one — a law that allows late-term abortion and offers no protections for girls, women or health professionals.”
Efforts to pass a similar bill stalled during the 2019 session. Though the House voted to support the measure, it failed in the Senate when eight Democrats joined Republicans in blocking the effort.
There was a greater sense of urgency to pass the measure this year. The governor’s action Friday came amid concern that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court could overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which prohibits stringent government limits on abortion access.
Bencomo said abortion rights proponents have watched with caution the efforts across the country to “chip away” at Roe v. Wade.
“I feel good about this protection,” she said of the governor’s action. “It feels very momentous. It feels like we were listened to.”