NM AG seeks to nullify anti-abortion ordinances

Jan. 24—New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez has filed an "extraordinary writ" in the New Mexico Supreme Court alleging Clovis, Roosevelt County, Lea County and Hobbs have unlawfully passed ordinances that restrict access to reproductive healthcare in their communities.

According to a news release from Torrez, the attorney general's request to halt the "infringement on women's rights" came one day after what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Torrez wrote the ordinances relied on what he terms "a flawed interpretation of a 19th century federal statute regulating the interstate shipment of abortion medication."

"These communities sought to impose a new regulatory scheme that would have effectively prohibited abortion access for women and, in one instance (in Roosevelt County), created a private right of action that would allow private citizens to file lawsuits to enforce the ordinances," Torrez wrote.

Torrez has taken formal action to nullify the ordinances, according to the news release.

"This is not Texas," Torrez wrote. "Our State Constitution does not allow cities, counties or private citizens to restrict women's reproductive rights. [This] action should send a strong message that my office will use every available tool to swiftly and decisively uphold liberties against unconstitutional overreach."

Roosevelt County Attorney Michael Garcia described the attorney general's action as a "writ of mandamus" which Garcia outlined as "a command to a governmental entity to perform a non-discretionary duty."

Garcia said the immediate effect of Torrez' action is that "We will respond," speaking of action Roosevelt County will take. Garcia said he looks to respond in "a week or so."

As to when the New Mexico Supreme Court may hear the case Garcia said he did not know.

The author of the eastern New Mexico ordinances, Texas attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell, has offered his services pro bono for governments who face legal action over the ordinances.

"I'm being paid by Roosevelt County to respond to it," Garcia said of Torrez' writ.

Laura Wight, co-founder of the progressive grass roots group Eastern New Mexico Rising, wrote in a press release the group, "applauds today's action by ... Torrez to formally safeguard individual liberties against unconstitutional overreach by the Clovis city commission and the Roosevelt County Commission."

Wight also wrote the group "will continue forward with filing special petitions to bring the anti-choice ordinances to a public vote, until we have a firm decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court that our citizens are safe."

Mark Lee Dickson, the man from Right to Life of East Texas who spearheaded the drive for the ordinances in Clovis and elsewhere, wrote a text response to Monday's filing.

"Despite the filing [Monday] in the Supreme Court of New Mexico, cities and counties across the state remain on good standing to pass ordinances requiring compliance with 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461-1462 — which have never been repealed by Congress or declared invalid by the Supreme Court of the United States," Dickson wrote.

Dickson also stated that the attorney Mitchell has offered legal representation at no cost to the counties, the cities, and their taxpayers in defending the ordinance.

Clovis Mayor Mike Morris said he read Torrez's filing.

"I've read ... it but yield to the attorneys for analysis," Morris said. "I've notified Jonathan F. Mitchell of this. Mitchell pledged his pro bono legal services in connection with [defending] the ordinance."

A voicemail was left with Mitchell's Austin, Texas, phone number but no call was returned Monday.

Tate Turnbough, chair for the Democratic Party of Roosevelt County, described the action by Torrez as "amazing news."

"You cannot pass unjust ordinances and not expect to be reprimanded for it," Turnbough wrote. "Last I checked Roosevelt County was still part of New Mexico and as long as it is, Roosevelt County will follow the executive Orders and Laws of the State."

Roosevelt County Commissioner Rodney Savage saw the news release on Torrez's filing.

"I've been advised by our attorney to not speak to the press on the matter," Savage said Monday. "We believe what we are doing is legal. The courts are going to have to decide."

Jared Morris, attorney for the city of Clovis, had no comment on the attorney general's action as the city was officially served paperwork on the matter Monday and he was reviewing it.