A small New Mexico town near Albuquerque adopted an ordinance Wednesday aimed at blocking the distribution of abortion medication or supplies by mail, extending a wave of local government restrictions on abortion.
The ordinance won approval by a 4-1 vote of the town commission in Edgewood, a community of about 6,000 residents separated by a mountain pass from metropolitan Albuquerque. It aims to enforce provisions of a 19th century federal law that once prohibited mail shipments of abortion materials.
Edgewater commissioners acknowledged that the ordinance would be difficult to enforce — relying on private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against violators with damages capped at $100,000. They said legal changes could be costly after a municipal liability insurance pool refused coverage to Edgewood.
Commissioner Sterling Donner was undeterred, at an evening meeting that stretched past midnight into Wednesday.
“We want to join our allies in the state that are doing the same things,” he said. “It’s time to rise up, it’s time to fight … for the rights of these unborn children.”
The commission agreed to accept free legal representation from Texas-based attorney Jonathan Mitchell — an architect of the anti-abortion legislation in Texas and local government restrictions on abortion within several states.
John Watkins, with Coalition of Conservatives in Action, listens during an Edgewood Town Council meeting in Edgewood, New Mexico, on April 25, 2023. People gathered to a public meeting to discuss whether the town should adopt a local abortion-ban ordinance. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
Edgewood resident Erika Anderson said the ordinance threatens to pit neighbors against each other in lawsuits and tear the community apart.
“It’s really unnerving to see such a divisive ordinance trying to pull apart our community and our neighbors,” she said. “I would really, really want you to consider … the risk you are putting our town at by trying to be a leader or make a stand in this type of thing.”
Proponents of the ordinance urged commissioners to send a message to potential local abortion providers including pharmacy chains. Impassioned speeches equated abortion with murder. Opponents of the ordinance accused commissioners of overstepping their authority and threatening access to vital medication.
Edgewood Mayor Audrey Jaramillo said the commission chambers were too crowded for many people to enter, including her son. She read his concerns into the record: “Someone has to stand up for the defenseless babies. May we all agree — pro-baby.”
Similar ordinances have been adopted by two counties and three municipalities across eastern New Mexico. But most of those ordinances have been blocked by the New Mexico Supreme Court while it considers a challenge by the state’s Democratic attorney general.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez says the ordinances violate constitutional rights to equal protection and due process and threaten the state’s status as a safe haven for women seeking abortions.
State abortion laws in New Mexico are among the most liberal in the country. In 2021, the Democratic-led New Mexico Legislature repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, ensuring access to abortion even after the U.S. Supreme Court last year rolled back guarantees.
This year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two abortion-rights bills that override local ordinances aimed at limiting access and shield providers of abortions from prosecution by out-of-state interests.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week preserved women’s access to a drug used in the most common method of abortion, rejecting lower-court restrictions while a lawsuit proceeds.