The abortion debate is moving into Albuquerque’s neighborhoods.
People on both sides of the issue clashed this weekend at the home of a North Valley doctor, whom protesters described as an “abortionist.”
It started Saturday afternoon, when about 30 activists from the California-based group “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” showed up with signs and megaphones to denounce the doctor’s work.
Colleagues of the doctor, and others, went to the home in response to offer support to his family. The doctor wasn’t home at the time, a friend said.
In interviews since, each side at the protest offered a different tale of being mistreated by the other.
Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies were on hand, but no arrests were made.
Mary Lou Singleton, a midwife and colleague of the doctor, wouldn’t identify him publicly out of fear for his safety. The family, wanting to protect its privacy, declined to comment, according to a friend.
“The wife of the doctor was trapped inside the house with her three children, terrified to leave,” Singleton told the Journal on Wednesday. “… They (the protesters) stayed for two hours chanting horrible things. They were saying, ‘This doctor kills babies.’ ”
Kristina Garza, who’s from Riverside, Calif., and a member of the “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” group, said the family was in no danger.
“No, not from us anyway,” Garza said in an interview. “We were engaging in peaceful protests.”
Singleton said the fears of violence are legitimate. She cited the 2009 murder of a doctor in Kansas. A former colleague of that doctor now works in Albuquerque.
The back-and-forth comes as activists push for an Albuquerque ordinance that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions if the life of the pregnant woman is in danger.
The city clerk is still verifying whether activists gathered enough petition signatures to trigger an election on the issue. Garza and others have also asked the City Council to adopt the ordinance, without holding an election.
Anti-abortion activists have described Albuquerque as a “late-term abortion capital.” A private clinic near Downtown provides late-term abortions and is one of only four in the country of its kind.
Both sides at the doctor’s house this weekend accuse the other of inappropriate behavior.
Garza alleges someone drove a car slowly toward the group and hit someone.
“She did make contact with one our girls,” Garza said.
Garza said deputies witnessed the incident but wouldn’t file a report. A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office said he was checking Wednesday to see whether any reports had been filed.
Singleton, on the other hand, said the driver was just a friend of the family trying to find a place to park, not hurt anyone.
“They wouldn’t clear the road,” said Ryan Mireles, board president of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “I felt like they were blocking traffic.”
The protest at the doctor’s house and another at the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum coincided with a “pro-life” training camp held in Albuquerque last week. Young people from across the country came to the city to learn how to carry out anti-abortion activism.
Garza’s group argues that any person born after 1973 is a survivor of what it calls the “American Abortion Holocaust.” Members have called on the Holocaust museum in Downtown Albuquerque to add a display on abortion.
Garza said it’s possible her group will hold more protests like the one at the doctor’s home.
The goal was to alert the doctor’s neighbors to his line of work and to call on him to stop.
“One of the ways we teach people to end abortion is by exposing abortion,” Garza said. “… We also train people to end abortion by training them to expose abortionists.”
Garza said it wasn’t true that the group used its megaphones to call the doctor a murderer.
“Abortion ends the life of a baby,” she said, “so all we were doing is saying what he did. … Any person that performs abortions kills babies.”
Mireles said the anti-abortion protesters said through the megaphone that the doctor “was a killer and murderer and that he would go to hell. All sorts of religion-related, derogatory statements.”
Protests like the one at the doctor’s house are prohibited within city limits, but the North Valley home lies in the unincorporated area.
An Albuquerque ordinance prohibits picketing in front of a residence without permission from the occupants of the home.
Generally speaking, in the unincorporated area, people are free to protest peacefully in the public right of way, though there are rules against disturbing the peace, according to the county Legal Department.