A Roswell Republican who voted in favor of repealing an antiquated anti-abortion law has left the GOP.
State Rep. Phelps Anderson, who broke ranks with his party in the vote last week on a 1969 bill that criminalizes abortion, has changed his voter registration to a “declined to state,” House Minority Leader Jim Townsend confirmed Friday.
“I received a letter from him, and I have had a conversation with him, and he has left the Republican Party,” Townsend said.
Anderson declined a request for an interview. “Sorry,” he wrote in a text message late Friday. “Not today as I have done enough.”
Anderson, 69, who represents portions of the conservative Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties, sided with seven Democrats on the House Health and Human Services Committee in voting to repeal the abortion ban.
His vote drew criticism from his constituents, as well as calls for his resignation.
“He had told me earlier in the week that he thought he had become a distraction to the party — this wasn’t because he was mad at the party — it was because he thought he has become a distraction to the party,” said Townsend, who also said he had received about 100 calls about Anderson on Friday.
The repeal of the abortion bill, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico, has been a divisive issue among lawmakers.
It went to the Senate floor in 2019 but failed when eight moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats joined all 16 Republican senators in voting to keep the law on the books.
With six of those Democrats no longer in office, five of whom lost their primary races in June to more progressive candidates who made the anti-abortion law a major campaign issue, the repeal is expected to head to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this year. And the governor, who made the repeal one of her top legislative priorities, is expected to give it her approval.
The current New Mexico statute is unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that found overly restrictive state government regulations of abortion unconstitutional. But proponents of the bill expressed urgency in repealing the measure amid concerns the U.S. Supreme Court will weaken or overturn the ruling with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett giving conservatives a wide majority on the bench.
Reaction to Anderson switching from Republican to “declined to state” generated mixed reactions.
“Rep. Anderson, straight up, is and has always been a decent man,” Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, wrote on Twitter. “This doesn’t surprise me one bit, and says so much about who he is.”
In an email, John Block, who founded the conservative news website Piñon Post, wrote that Anderson’s “vote against human life in the womb is why his constituents forced him to relinquish his standing with the Republican Party.”
“He must now resign and allow local leaders to fill his seat with someone who truly represents the 66th District,” he wrote. “The time for wishy-washy, and unreliable ‘Republicans’ in the House is over.”
Anderson’s decision to leave the GOP comes after Republicans gained a seat in the state House of Representatives after the November general election. But they are still outnumbered by Democrats nearly 2-to-1.
“We were 24 members last year and we’re 24 members again right now,” Townsend said.
Despite Anderson’s departure, Townsend said House Republicans remain “very united.”
“Would we have rather that Phelps stayed on board?” he said. “Absolutely.”
Townsend said he’s known Anderson for many years. According to Anderson’s legislative biography, he served as a representative from 1977-80 and has served again in the House since 2019.
“When the dust settles over this, he’ll still be a friend of mine, whether he continues or resigns or whatever he does,” Townsend said. “Phelps was a friend of mine before this all started, and Phelps will be a friend of mine when this is all over with.”
When the Republican caucus spoke about Anderson changing his party affiliation, Townsend said “every one of them spoke highly” of Anderson.