Anti-abortion protesters have turned their attack on Gov. Susana Martinez and her staff, saying the governor hasn’t done enough to fight abortion in New Mexico.
Protest ABQ – an anti-abortion group whose organizers were behind a failed 2013 voter referendum to ban abortions in Albuquerque after 20 weeks of pregnancy – has begun protesting Martinez events claiming the governor effectively “condones” abortion because she hasn’t done enough to fight it.
“She has power; she’s just not willing to use it and it’s very disappointing, especially because she’s saying she’s pro-life,” said Tara Shaver, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group. “That’s why we are holding her to a higher standard, because she has made that claim, yet she hasn’t done anything.”
Martinez is a Republican and the first Latina governor in U.S. history. Her spokesman, Enrique Knell, responding to the group’s criticism, said: “The governor has been crystal clear that she is pro-life. … She isn’t going to be bullied by a small group of fringe protesters within the pro-life movement.”
The anti-abortion group is known for protests featuring poster-size photographs of aborted fetuses.
Members of the group first protested against Martinez in May outside the opening ceremony for the governor’s campaign headquarters. Last week, they staked out an event at which Martinez announced winners of a statewide breakfast burrito contest.
Another protest on Saturday in the neighborhood of Martinez top strategist Jay McCleskey sparked a confrontation in which protesters said McCleskey responded to the group with a profanity.
McCleskey said in a statement that the confrontation was a response to the group’s tactics.
“As a father, I objected to this group terrifying young children innocently playing in their neighborhood on a Saturday morning, including my own 8-year-old son, with grotesque posters and billboards of dead fetuses, and I think most parents would share my disgust,” McCleskey said.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, agreed that Martinez has not been able to curb abortion in New Mexico, but said the Democratic-controlled Legislature bears most of the blame.
Sharer, among the most conservative members of the Senate, said Martinez backed legislation requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions in 2012, although the governor did not include that effort on her legislative agenda this year.
“She’s done as much as she can do,” Sharer said. “Unless the Legislature gives her something, what can she do?”
Sharer said Martinez and other Republican lawmakers backed away from abortion issues this year after the 2013 Albuquerque voter referendum showed signs of disagreement among anti-abortion groups. Different groups, for example, pursued competing messaging campaigns during the referendum campaign that some characterized as counterproductive.
“There was infighting between the pro-life groups, and the governor simply decided to back off,” Sharer said.
Anti-abortion lawmakers who joined Martinez in backing off abortion legislation this year were concerned the competing groups would dispute what legislative action was “good enough,” Sharer said.
Sharer said he was “disappointed” that Martinez hasn’t used her regulatory authority to limit abortion in New Mexico but said he respects the governor’s restraint on using executive orders to run state government.
Shaver, the protest group spokeswoman, said Martinez could have acted to regulate abortion clinics through the state Department of Health, included abortion issues in her speeches or proposed abortion-fighting legislation in the list of issues she requested the Legislature consider this year.
“She does have executive power, she does have her voice, and her administration has authority elsewhere, too, in terms of the Department of Health,” Shaver said.
New Mexico political analyst Brian Sanderoff said the criticism by anti-abortion activists toward Martinez is unlikely to have any impact on the November general election, considering the choice is between abortion-rights Democrat Gary King and Martinez.
“They still have a pro-life candidate versus a pro-choice candidate,” Sanderoff said. “Although evidently the governor is not satisfying the needs of these protesters, she still is closer to the opinion of the pro-life voter, so they have nowhere else to go.”
“However,” Sanderoff said, “if the protests persist throughout the campaign, it could force the governor to re-emphasize her pro-life position, thereby risking the alienation of some of her pro-choice crossover Democratic and independent supporters.”