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New lawsuit claims NM public health order violates rights

The governor of New Mexico and one of her cabinet secretaries is again facing a lawsuit after issuing a COVID-19 public health order requiring healthcare workers, among other professions like teachers or school staff, to be vaccinated unless they qualify for an exemption. The order, which was issued on Aug. 18, also requires that anyone attending the upcoming New Mexico State Fair be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The day after the order was issued, two women filed a class action suit against the state, arguing that the order violated their right to refuse a vaccine that has not been fully approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration.

Rio Rancho resident Jennifer Blackford, is a registered nurse with Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque who has not been vaccinated for COVID-19. According to a signed affidavit, Blackford said that based on her medical training and her own independent research, she has decided not to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“It is my right to choose not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and it violates my right to bodily integrity under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution to require that in order to keep my job I must inject an experimental [Emergency Use Authorization] vaccine into my body,” Blackford’s affidavit reads.

Emergency Use Authorization is an expedited process, but is not described as “experimental” and is still made after clinical trials with “rigorous standards” according to the Federal Drug Administration.

Even without the public health order in question, Presbyterian recently announced it would require all of its staff to be vaccinated.

Talisha Valdez is a resident of Union County and the mother of two daughters who had planned on showing livestock in a 4-H competition at the state fair. Valdez wrote in another affidavit that her family has invested “considerable time and labor” and $9,000 to prepare the animals for show at the fair.

“It is my right to choose not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and it is my right as a parent to refuse to have my child injected with an experimental [Emergency Use Authorization] vaccine,” Valdez’s affidavit reads.

Blackford and Valdez are represented by Albuquerque-based attorney Blair Dunn, who has filed numerous legal challenges against the state over the past two years since COVID-19 started infecting New Mexicans.

The suit claims that the most recent public health order is unconstitutional because it denies a class of people “their fundamental liberty interest in engaging in the profession of their choosing, to raise their children as they see fit and to have their existing contracts performed without interference from the state.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s office, reiterated that the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation, but noted that “the state’s ability to protect the health and safety of the public by implementing public health policies has been upheld again and again by the courts.”

Dunn and his clients are also asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the state in order to allow Blackford to stay employed and Valdez’s daughters to show their livestock while the matter is litigated, in order to prevent irreparable and irreversible harm.

The public health order in question allows for certain medical or religious exemptions from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but requires those with valid exemptions to wear masks and submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

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