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Bill criminalizing abortions after rape causes an uproar in New Mexico

One day after proposing a bill that would classify having an abortion after rape or incest as "tampering with evidence," a Republican legislator in New Mexico said Thursday she is clarifying the intent of the legislation.

New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown on Wednesday introduced House Bill 206, which would criminalize "procuring or facilitating an abortion," or "compelling or coercing" someone else to get an abortion after rape or incest, as destroying evidence.

Read the original bill in PDF

Some Democrats and opponents of the proposal said that under the bill's original language, female victims of rape or incest who become pregnant might be criminally liable if they have an abortion.

But in a statement sent Thursday to NBC News, Brown said the bill was not intended to criminalize rape victims, but rather a rapist who might force the victim to have an abortion.

"Its intent is solely to deter rape and cases of incest. The rapist — not the victim — would be charged with tampering of evidence. I am submitting a substitute draft to make the intent of the legislation abundantly clear," Brown said in the statement.

Brown, who represents a southeastern New Mexico district, is endorsed by a "Right to Life" organization, according to her campaign website.

University of New Mexico Law Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez told NBC News this bill might be designed to have "a chilling effect" on women's right to exercise their choice on abortion.

"It is not typical that a fetus would be used as evidence in a rape case," Sedillo said. Testimony by the victim, bodily damage and semen are generally used as evidence in cases of rape, she added.

Brown's first proposal has abortion rights advocates unhappy.

"Any elected official who wants to put criminal liability (on) survivors of rape or incest is cold-blooded," Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement to NBC News.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico released a statement Thursday condemning the proposed legislation.

"This bill is wrong, and should never see the light of day in any legislature in this country, let alone New Mexico," state party chairman Javier Gonzales said in the statement. "The War on Women in America has to stop. No woman should ever be forced to carry a child for 'evidence,' plain and simple."

A representative from the Right To Life Committee of New Mexico said organization officials could not immediately comment Thursday, as they are still analyzing the bill.

A spokesman for the office of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, sent a statement to NBC News Thursday evening: "Governor Martinez dedicated her career as a prosecutor to being a strong voice for crime victims and would never support any bill that re-victimizes rape survivors," said spokesman Enrique C. Knell.

The issue arose the same week as the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. The landmark Jan. 22, 1973 decision affirmed a women’s right to choice based on privacy.