Anti-abortion activists took their protest last weekend to an upscale Los Ranchos de Albuquerque neighborhood near the home of University of New Mexico Hospital’s top administrator as part of their campaign to close a UNM medical clinic that, along with other services, performs abortions up to 22 weeks.
The protest is part of a “neighborhood awareness” campaign started earlier this year by Project Defending Life, which has organized six protests this year in residential neighborhoods, said Tara Shaver, a spokeswoman for the group. The residential protests are intended “to increase the pressure on a personal level,” Shaver said Monday.
The protests also highlight the scope of a county ordinance approved last year to limit protests at private residences.
“Because there is a freedom of speech element here, you have to tread lightly when you are dealing with speech,” said Bernalillo County Attorney Randy Autio.
The county drafted the ordinance last year after a California anti-abortion group targeted the North Valley home of an Albuquerque physician. U.S. Supreme Court rulings found that a person has a right to privacy at home and that cities and counties can regulate protests that target a specific residence, Autio said.
But the ordinance does not prohibit protesters from picketing in residential areas if they avoid targeting a specific residence, he said. “If they are on a public road, they have a right to walk up and down that road and protest,” Autio said.
Autio said he was not aware of the protest on Saturday.
Shaver said 10 to 15 protesters gathered in a neighborhood west of Rio Grande Boulevard because UNMH CEO Steve McKernan lives nearby.
The purpose of the protest was to pressure McKernan into closing the UNM Center for Reproductive Health, which provides abortions up to 22 weeks of gestation and other reproductive health services.
McKernan could not be reached for comment Monday.
UNM Health Sciences Center spokesman John Arnold said the Center for Reproductive Health and other UNM clinics “remain committed to providing patients with the highest quality of care in a safe and supportive environment.”
Protesters remained at the site for about two hours, carrying graphic photos of deceased fetuses as the group’s truck drove through the neighborhood displaying similar images, Shaver said. Protesters were careful to abide by the county’s ordinance, she said.
“You can’t stop in front of one individual’s home, so we walk around the entire neighborhood,” she said. Protesters remain on public rights-of-way, she said.
“We have instructed our activists not to engage with people who approach,” she said. “We’re just there to let the images of the abortion victims speak for themselves.”
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and asked protesters to move vehicles parked in a private area, Shaver said, but deputies did not ask protesters to leave.
The protest was the sixth organized by Project Defending Life in residential areas since early March, Shaver said.
The earlier protests targeted neighborhoods in the Northeast Heights near the homes of property managers who oversee the property occupied by the UNM Center for Reproductive Health , she said.