Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, offered testimony this morning in Santa Fe, New Mexico on the subject of HB 51.
New Mexico’s HB 51 is anti-life legislation that would strip rights of conscience from New Mexico statutes, leaving healthcare professionals unprotected in law, while removing provisions for meaningful oversight and accountability of abortion operators. New Mexico’s HB 51 allegedly addresses itself to the issue of “women’s health,” while reducing basic health and safety protections not only for women seeking abortion but also regarding abortion providers.
Among the foundational questions that New Mexico’s HB 51 raises are the following:
- HB 51 strikes the protections for rights of conscience against abortion off the New Mexico statutes, leaving many conscientious pro-life healthcare professional unprotected in law. How is it that proponents of this bill claim they are simply re-affirming the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade, when Roe itself affirmed the position of the AMA House of Delegates that no healthcare professional should be forced to participate in abortion?
- Where is the accountability for slipshod abortion operators like Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, and Dr. Robert Rho of New York, who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide last year for killing a young woman in an abortion? How can an abortionist be prosecuted for dangerous and substandard abortions such as the one that Keisha Atkins’ survivors say killed her in 2017 when there is no provision left in the criminal statutes against abortion after HB 51?
- How can proponents of HB 51 contend that it is a “women’s health bill” when it literally denies every basic health and safety protection for women who seek abortion and allows abortion providers to operate completely under the radar within the State of New Mexico?
Written Testimony of Catherine Glenn Foster, Esq.
President & CEO, Americans United for Life
On H.B. 51
Submitted to the Committee on House Consumer and Public Affairs
January 25, 2019
Dear Chair Thomson and Members of the Committee:
My name is Catherine Glenn Foster, and I serve as President and CEO of Americans United for Life (AUL), the oldest and most active pro-life non-profit advocacy organization. Established in 1971, AUL has dedicated nearly 50 years to advocating for comprehensive legal protections for human life from conception to natural death. Thank you for the opportunity to provide legal testimony on H.B. 51, which removes protections for hospitals and health care providers who have a conscience objection to abortion and expands abortion beyond Roe v. Wade and its progeny.
I have thoroughly reviewed H.B. 51, and it is my legal opinion that the Act violates the First Amendment and will have severe consequences for the health of women and the unborn.
First, H.B. 51 violates the First Amendment rights of conscience and to the freedom of religious exercise of religion and freedom of conscience. Even while creating a constitutional right to abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the freedom to choose to not participate in an abortion procedure, explaining that provisions allowing hospitals to choose to not admit patients for abortions and allowing employees to choose to not participate for religious or moral reasons were “appropriate protection[s] to the individual and to the denominational hospital.”1 In violation of these freedoms, H.B. 51 strips away the conscience rights of health care providers to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.2 For example, if a practitioner objects to performing or participating in an abortion procedure, he or she could face disciplinary or recriminatory action without adequate protection or recourse. Likewise, a religiously affiliated hospital could be coerced into facilitating or providing abortion in violation of its mission and purpose. H.B. 51 should be rejected because it would leave health care providers with a choice to either perform or facilitate abortions in violation of their conscience or to stop providing health care altogether.
Second, H.B. 51 harms women by removing common-sense protections for women’s life and health. Without the current criminal abortion statute, N.M.S.A. § 30-5-3, abortion providers will no longer be held criminally accountable for coerced abortions, which can occur in cases of domestic violence or sex trafficking.3 If the issue of abortion is returned to the states, the passage of H.B. 51 would remove criminal liability for abortions that result in the death of the woman. Unfortunately, the actions of abortion providers have caused the death of many women.4 The criminal abortion statute is one of the last remaining regulations in place that protect the life, health, and safety of the woman who chooses to have an abortion. Ultimately, H.B. 51 should be rejected because it decriminalizes forced abortions and strips away necessary protections for women.
In conclusion, I urge this Committee to further New Mexico’s important state interests in protecting conscience rights, safeguarding women’s health, and preserving human life, and reject H.B. 51.
Catherine Glenn Foster
President & CEO
Americans United for Life
1Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 198 (1973) (companion case to Roe v. Wade).
2 Although N.M.S.A. § 24-7A-7 and § 28-22-3 address a healthcare practitioner’s and institution’s freedom of conscience and a person’s free exercise of religion, respectively, both laws are narrow and do not explicitly apply to abortion. Moreover, neither contains a right of enforcement or a private right of action, and § 28-22-3 only applies to actions by a government agency.
3 See, e.g., Ams. United for Life, Unsafe (2d ed. 2018) (report documenting unsafe practices of abortion providers and harm to women’s health and safety).
4 Some examples include Kermit Gosnell, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and Robert Rho, who botched an abortion that led to the death of the young woman. See Conor Friedersdorf, Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story, Atlantic (Apr. 12, 2013), https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/why-dr-kermit-gosnells-trial-should-be-a-front-page-story/274944/; Associated Press, NY Doctor Pleads Guilty to Negligent Homicide in Botched Abortion Procedure that Killed Woman, NY Daily News (May 5, 2018), https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/ny-doctor-pleads-guilty-abortion-procedure-killed-woman-article-1.3972502. In New Mexico, Keisha Atkins died following an elective 24-week abortion after the clinic instructed her to not seek emergency care. See Marian Camacho, Wrongful Death Lawsuit Targets Albuquerque Abortion Clinic, KOB 4 (Sept. 12, 2018), https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/southwestern-womens-options-wrongful-death-lawsuit/5067812/.