Edgewood voters will be once again denied an opportunity to decide the fate of a town anti-abortion ordinance that was passed by the town commission in April.
In the wake of that decision, a citizen’s group successfully gathered enough signatures to force a special election, but the commission was unable to meet the strict timeline guidelines to bring that to the people. Additionally, it did not follow the correct procedural steps necessary for a special election.
The next opportunity to let the residents decide the fate of the measure would have been the Nov. 7 general election.
But Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver recently put the kibosh on that.
“We have heard back from the Secretary of State that they are rejecting the question for the Regular Local Election ballot,” Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark said in a letter to town officials earlier this month.
“This question appears to be an advisory question,” Toulouse Oliver told Clark. Under New Mexico statutes, “advisory questions cannot be placed on the ballot for any election.”
Clark referred additional questions on the issue to Toulouse Oliver’s office. The Secretary of State’s Office did not respond to a request for comment, but Alex Curtas, its spokesman, wrote in an email to the New Mexican that the statute exists to avoid placing questions “with no legal weight to them” on the ballot.
“Counties cannot regulate health care and, thus, the question would have had no legal weight,” he wrote.
That means the legislation that would ban providers from receiving abortion materials – in particular the drug Mifepristone – through the mail, remains null for the time being.
As for its future, that remains to be seen.
The commission originally passed the measure on a 4-1 vote, with only Commissioner Filandro Anaya voting against it. The issue was debated into the early morning of April 26, including hours of audience participation both pro and con, as well as additional hours in executive session with attorneys to discuss possible litigation on the move.
The commission could still call for a special election during the next window to do such – Feb. 15-March 10, 2024.
But by that time, the commission could look vastly different as Commissioner Sterling Donner, who proposed the legislation, is up for re-election in the coming vote and is facing two challengers. And Commissioner Audrey Jaramillo decided not to run again.
Donner did not respond to a request for comment.
The issue just may be decided by the courts as the state Supreme Court is set begin a hearing Dec. 13 in a case pitting New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez’s office versus Lea and Roosevelt counties as well as Hobbs and Clovis, all of which passed similar ordinances, contrary to state legislation formally legalizing abortion.
The issue also is heading to federal courts.
The prescription of Mifepristone, which is used to induce abortions, should not be done via telemedicine nor be done after the seventh week of pregnancy, according to a federal appeals court ruling last month.
But in states like New Mexico, where the pills are legal, they will remain on the market and available for both telemedicine prescription and via the mail because of an earlier federal Supreme Court stay.