Abortion rights front and center in local, national races - Albuquerque Journal

Abortion rights front and center in local, national races

For most of her life, Marlene Simon didn’t tell many people about the illegal abortion she had in 1969.

She didn’t tell them about driving to a house party in Watts, California, as a 19-year-old, being led to an upstairs bedroom and laid on a towel, undergoing a painful procedure, and then having a lonely and complicated miscarriage over the next few days.

However, since a leaked opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a case that enshrined abortion rights throughout the country for about 50 years, Simon, who now lives in Santa Fe, has been sharing her experience in interviews and letters to the editors of several publications.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe paved the way for states to put restrictions on abortion, the issue has taken center stage in political races in New Mexico and across the country.

Democrats particularly have latched on to the topic.

Last month, Simon spoke at a news conference in Albuquerque in support of abortion rights with women, a physician and other New Mexico Democrats. And, on Tuesday, the Democratic Congressional Committee released a new ad targeting Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., for her opposition to abortion, including being a co-sponsor of a bill that would have extended the “right to life” in the Constitution to the unborn. Herrell’s opponent, Democrat Gabe Vasquez, supports abortion rights.

“My concern now is for women, especially young women who may be faced with making the same decision I was confronted with, and I thought to myself, enough is enough,” Simon said. “It was so painful and so frightening, really shameful, and I’m sure dangerous.”

Many of the Republican candidates who are anti-abortion said their position is rooted in their faith. Herrell says she is staunchly “pro-life” and wants to speak “for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

She said states – not Congress – should set laws on abortion. She said in an interview with Journal editors that she also believes there should be exceptions for rape, incest and if a mother’s life is in danger.

“It’s rooted in my Christian beliefs. And I value life. I’ve always been very proud pro-life,” she said of her position on abortion. “I do believe in exceptions, because I think that’s important.”

Two anti-abortion rights activists recently held a fundraiser for Republican congressional District 1 candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, who is seeking to oust Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury. The email invite, addressed to a “pro-life friend,” points out that Garcia Holmes signed a pledge in September 2021 that she would work to end abortion.

Garcia Holmes wrote in a Journal questionnaire: “We should be more compassionate, protect third-trimester babies, help women make better, healthy, and educated decisions.”

Last month, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti proposed a special election to allow New Mexico voters to decide what, if any, guardrails on abortion should be enacted statewide.

Ronchetti didn’t say what the exact wording of the amendment should be, as that largely would be up to state lawmakers to determine. But he has previously proposed banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

“Mark believes this issue should be decided by voters in a special election and the governor believes politicians in Santa Fe should decide for everyone,” Ryan Sabel, a spokesman for the Ronchetti campaign, said in an email.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking reelection, opposes any restrictions on abortion.

She has signed an executive order that shields abortion providers and out-of-state residents seeking abortion services in New Mexico from criminal warrants and other legal actions. Another order she signed pledges $10 million in state funds to build a new clinic in Doña Ana County that would provide abortion and other reproductive services.

New Mexicans are split on the issue.

A recent Journal Poll found 35% of likely voters believe abortion should always be legal and 22% think it should be legal with some limitations. Another 25% said it should be illegal except for rape, incest or to save a mother’s life, while 12% said it should always be illegal.

Despite those numbers, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, after the abortion-rights news conference, said he doesn’t think a constitutional amendment proposing any restriction on abortion would pass.

“I don’t believe it would have success,” he said. “I think that when you have those protections already on the books … any attack on that, or any changes to that, would simply be just taking away the reproductive rights of women.”

In interviews, Garcia Holmes and Herrell accused Democrats of using abortion as a distraction.

“Democrats are manufacturing a crisis and weaponizing, sadly, abortion and the unborn for political game,” Herrell said. The real crisis is the open border, the cost of gas, the cost of groceries, people having to make choices between buying food or paying their rent or paying their utilities.”

Garcia Holmes said she rarely hears about the issue on the campaign trail, even at the event last weekend hosted by Bud and Tara Shaver, who are anti-abortion activists with the group Abortion Free New Mexico. Garcia Holmes said she is concerned about homelessness, crime, inflation and border security, as opposed to abortion.

When she ran for the seat in 2020, she said she was looking forward to supporting “pro-life” initiatives that would ban late-term abortion nationwide and in New Mexico. She said in a recent interview that the Supreme Court’s Roe decision made abortion an issue for state legislators, not members of Congress.

“The abortion issue is now a state issue,” she said. “Democrats are using this issue to deflect from their failed policies.”

Stansbury has said she will continue to work so women have access to safe and legal abortions in New Mexico. She voted for the House bill that established a federal right to an abortion nationwide. The bill was not voted on in the Senate.

“I am proud to say that abortion remains legal and accessible in New Mexico,” she has said. “But we must stand firm against the attempt by the Supreme Court and the Republican Party to turn back the clock on women’s fundamental rights.”

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