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Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

New Mexico Supreme Court to weigh in on whether locally passed anti-abortion ordinances could be legal under the new law. Courtesy photo
Attorney general filed suit against towns and counties

The town of Edgewood is moving forward with its ballot referendum on its anti-abortion ordinance at a cost of more than $35,000.

The town of Edgewood, about 30 minutes east of Albuquerque, passed an anti-abortion ordinance last April to restrict abortion medication from being sent through the U.S. mail, following other towns and counties in eastern New Mexico which passed similar ordinances about a year ago. But one difference to Edgewood’s ordinance was that it mirrored the Texas six-week abortion ban that went into effect in 2021 by putting enforcement power in the hands of the residents of Edgewood, rather than the town itself.

Edgewood’s town commissioners passed the ordinance a few weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill that prohibits public bodies in the state from discriminating against reproductive health care or gender affirming care.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed suit against the towns and counties that had already passed similar anti-abortion ordinances about a year ago shortly after he took office. After the Reproductive and Gender Affirming Health Care Act became law in March of 2023, Torrez asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to weigh in on whether locally passed anti-abortion ordinances could be legal under the new law.

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral argument on the issue in December. During oral argument, Torrez asked the court to rule more broadly on the question in order, he said, to put an end to future lawsuits. He argued that the state’s Equal Rights Amendment grants individuals the right to an abortion in New Mexico. He asked the state Supreme Court to consider the suit from that broader consideration.

Torrez’s office did not respond to requests for comment. The state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the suit.

During the town of Edgewood’s special commission meeting held last week, former mayor Audrey Jaramillo spoke during public comment and asked why the town commissioners did not wait until both the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have decided cases on abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral argument over whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration erred in loosening its regulations in 2016 around the abortion medication mifepristone sometime this spring. The suit was brought by a conservative group in the state of Texas where abortion is already banned.

Jaramillo also asked why the commissioners didn’t wait until the 2024 legislature ends in order to see what the legislature might pass during this session.

Jaramillo said that moving forward with the referendum would only create further division in the town.

But an attorney, Frank Coppler, advising the town commissioners through a conference call, said that the commissioners are required to follow referendum law.

“Whether or not it was a wise decision to pass the ordinance is long gone. That horse has left the barn,” Coppler said.

After the town of Edgewood passed the ordinance last April, residents of the town filed a petition to hold a referendum vote on the ordinance. The town commissioners were required to hold a special mail-in ballot last year around August but they missed the deadline.

The town made an effort to put the referendum to a vote on the November ballot but the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office said that because referendum law requires the vote to be a mail-in ballot only, the town could not include the referendum on the November ballot.

March is the first, and only opportunity, the town can hold a mail-in ballot on the referendum, said Edgewood Commissioner Jerry Powers. He said that because of what he called “blackout periods,” the town has to hold the referendum this spring or else wait until 2025 to mail out the ballots.

“We don’t have a choice on this. We have a statutory duty or it will go to 2025. It’s important we carry out our statutory duty. Otherwise we’ll be in malfeasance of office,” Powers said.

Town Manager Nina McCracken said the cost to the town will be, per last quote, $36,121.06 due to the use of ballot machines and the judges the town will have to employ to validate all of the ballots.

While the state Supreme Court considers whether the local anti-abortion ordinances already passed can be legally enforced under the Reproductive and Gender Affirming Health Care Act, all of the ordinances are not enforceable.