Proposed New Mexico Law Would Now Prosecute Abortion Providers Instead of Rape Victims
Santa Fe, New Mexico– A Republican state lawmaker in
New Mexico proposed a law last week that would send a
woman to prison for three years on a felony if she had an
abortion after being raped– for “tampering with evidence.”
State Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, introduced H.B. 206. It states:
“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”
The physician and health care professionals who perform the abortion could be charged criminally as well with a felony.
Brown says it’s all a misunderstanding. She said her intent was not to go after rape and incest victims, but to prosecute rapists and incest perpetrators who coerce women into having abortions. She said the mistake occurred during the drafting of the bill, and she’s working on a substitute to make it clear the proposal wouldn’t apply to the victims.
Brown is a Carlsbad lawyer serving her second term in the New Mexico House since 2010. She’s a past GOP chairwoman and has been on the board of Right to Life of Carlsbad, an outspoken
Controversy and Outcry
Nine New Mexico House Republicans, all women, signed on as co-sponsors. The bill quickly caught the eye of ABC News, The Huffington Post, Slate, Courthouse News, and Salon.com.
The first to publicize Brown’s bill was the liberal PAC Progress Now New Mexico. “In addition to being blatantly unconstitutional, the bill turns victims of rape and incest into felons and forces them to become incubators of evidence for the state,” said Pat Davis, the group’s executive director.
Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales called the legislation “atrocious” and demanded, “The war on women in America has to stop. No woman should ever be forced to carry a child for evidence, plain and simple.”
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, moved to distance herself from HB 206. Responding to a request for a comment, her spokesperson said Martinez, as a career prosecutor, “would never support a bill that re-victimized rape survivors.”
On the national level, Democrats have decried a GOP “war on women” and cited outlandish statements about rape by Republican candidates to bolster that claim. Some Republicans have said that such missteps by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and Indiana Senate contender Richard Mourdock cost the party U.S. Senate seats in those states.
Revising a Poorly Written Bill
In an interview last Thursday, Brown explained her intention, saying, “I’ve been talking to my constituents in Carlsbad and with law enforcement people, and they say we’re not doing enough to protect women and children.”
Her intent, she said, is to “go after perpetrators of incest and criminal sexual penetration who cover up their crime by forcing girls and women to get abortions.” Prosecuting rape or incest victims was never the goal of the bill, Brown stressed, adding, “It’s the guy who does the sex crime.”
Brown revised her original bill Friday to specify that victims can’t be charged.
Brown posted the new version of the bill on her personal website. In the new version of her bill, she added a sentence saying “In no circumstance shall the mother of the fetus be charged under this subsection.” The original version of the bill, however, is still posted on the Legislature’s website.
The executive director of the state Democratic Party said Friday that the ‘new’ Brown bill still has problems.
“The bill still makes it a crime to ‘facilitate’ an abortion for a woman who wants one …,” said Scott Forrester in a news release. “That means doctors, nurses, or anyone else who works at a health care clinic where this is one of the services provided would still be guilty of a felony.”
In another twist, Brown on Friday explained to a news reporter how the poorly written bill came about. She had asked a bill drafter with the Legislative Council Service whether she should include a sentence about not charging the mother. But, she said, the drafter told her that it wouldn’t be necessary– and prosecutors would understand that.
Brown has said part of the problem was that the original drafter quit his job before finishing the bill, so it went to another drafter.
Asked about what had happened with drafting Brown’s bill and for permission to look at the file, John Yaeger of the Legislative Council Service said, “… we’re prohibited by law from disclosing the nature or contents of any request from a legislator, which includes any conversations, communications and the file.”
Critics of the proposed bill are questioning whether Cathrynn Brown and the New Mexico Legislature are going too far, overreaching for evidence from rape victims that would normally be obtained in other ways while criminalizing
abortion health care providers.
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