During a sit-down earlier this month in the sparse Albuquerque administrative office for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, CEO Vicki Cowart wondered aloud if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision had lulled much of the public into taking legal abortion for granted. Here in New Mexico, abortion access has been solidly maintained by decades of activism by rights proponents and their collaborations with supportive elected officials. “Two generations of women have grown into adults with this not being an issue,” said Cowart. Yet two generations of women have seen gradual rollbacks in abortion rights and access in many other states across the country, where anti-abortion activists intent on ending the practice have been doggedly, methodically successful. Read this story’s companion piece, “NM state law, the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion access” here.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has served as a swing vote in the U.S. Supreme Court on some issues including the decision not to overturn Roe v. Wade, but a new, more conservative replacement could change that. If the ruling is overturned, each state would decide on the legality of abortion. New Mexico is one of ten states where a pre-Roe law means abortion would be illegal if the landmark case were overturned. Overturning Roe v. Wade has been a conservative goal for decades and Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins told NPR this week that Kennedy’s retirement pushed them on the brink of success. “In New Mexico, we have an old statute on the books from pre Roe v. Wade,” explained State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces.
Last month, Albuquerque-based anti-abortion missionaries Bud and Tara Shaver and the University of New Mexico branch of Students for Life co-sponsored a screening of a documentary promoted as a way to “start a healthy conversation” about abortion. Someone chalked sidewalks outside the university campus venue with phrases like “Support unbiased research” and “Abortion does not cause breast cancer.” Tara told me she’d invited several pro-choice groups and was disappointed none of their members attended. What she didn’t mention was that the documentary itself had already been decried by medical experts as misleading, unfair and emotionally manipulative—a form of conspiracy thinking rendered in film. Two weeks after the screening, Tara told me she’d read an article I wrote in February about a Massachusetts project that in the 1990s helped bridge extreme rifts between local abortion activists. Tara thought another showing of the documentary could promote civil discourse about a severely polarizing issue.
The Feast of the Annunciation marked by the Catholic Church falls not long after the vernal equinox, in time for the arrival of new spring growth. It commemorates the biblical story of when a young, unmarried virgin living in poverty, Mary, found herself “greatly troubled by the words” pronounced by an angel. She’d been divinely selected for an “immaculate” conception, with assurance she’d give birth to the masculine incarnation of a paternal, all-powerful God. On this year’s Day of Annunciation, the Vatican released Pope Francis’ formal words of encouragement for Christian community members, a far-ranging document “crowned” by a renewed declaration that Mary, “blessed above all other saints,” be the one Christians turn to for both solace and guidance. She was, said Pope Francis, penultimate in her ability to embody, live and extend the teachings of Jesus.
It’s been three years since I began work for NM Political Report focused on politics and what are often referred to as “women’s issues.” It’s phrasing I reflexively shy away from, as there are few issues not relevant to women. Areas like reproductive health and access relate to everyone, regardless of background and gender identity—they’re relevant to every family, no matter their composition or belief systems.
Yet many public policies have disproportionate effects on women and families with children. Protections for pregnant workers, for example, were among the proposals I followed in 2015 and were among the many which failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. I also covered public policy and discourse related to abortion, which bears heavy baggage in simple utterance of the word. Then, the local atmosphere surrounding abortion felt both disconcertingly polarized and exhausted.
Two hours of emotional testimony from New Mexicans on both sides of the abortion debate did not seem to change anyone’s mind at the Legislature on Saturday, as a House committee voted along party lines to block a bill that would have required abortion providers to notify parents before their child undergoes the procedure. The Republican sponsors behind House Bill 56 said the measure was a simple step to ensure minors make informed decisions with their parents before getting an abortion. But critics countered that the measure would hamper the rights of young women in making an intensely personal decision and delay care for patients. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee tabled the bill on a 3-2 vote, with Democrats on the prevailing side. The bill would have required abortion providers to contact a minor patient’s parent or guardian by a certified letter delivered via courier at least 48 hours before their child undergoes the procedure.
A state investigation prompted by a congressional panel and anti-abortion activists found no criminal wrongdoing by Southwestern Women’s Options (SWWO) or the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center over fetal tissue donations. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent letters to the members of the House Select Panel on Infant Lives, including chairwoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Blackburn complained to Balderas last June that SWWO appeared to have violated two state laws: The Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, or Spradling Act, and the Maternal, Fetal and Infant Experimentation Act (MFIEA). After its months-long investigation, the Attorney General’s office said donations from SWWO to UNM did not violate either law. “We are pleased that the New Mexico Attorney General confirmed that the University of New Mexico did not violate any state laws,” UNM Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Alex Sanchez told NM Political Report in a statement.
If Curtis Boyd lives by one professional mantra, it’s this: Unless a woman has full autonomy over her body, she lacks full citizenship and lives instead as a second-class citizen. The controversial and celebrated abortion provider explains this thoughtfully on a hot, dry Fourth of July day in his Albuquerque office. A wiry man of 80 years, Boyd wears a gray surgical gown and says he’s working the holiday because the type of procedure that his clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is known for requires multiple days. The clinic sits near I-25 on Lomas Boulevard, a crowded east-west thoroughfare on the edge of downtown Albuquerque. Across the street looms a pink billboard paid for by the group Prolife Across America.
Though Dr. Curtis Boyd spent five years before Roe v. Wade risking time in jail and his medical license by performing abortions, he says things got worse after the landmark ruling legalizing abortion across the country. At first, he says the anti-abortion movement wasn’t given much credence. But he points to the election of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party’s embrace of a stance against abortion access as a turning point. During the 1980s, Boyd says protesters often swarmed his car to block his exit from the clinic parking lot. His staff, eyewitnesses to the protests, would call the cops to intervene.
Two advocacy organizations filed discrimination complaints against an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacy for allegedly refusing to fill a birth control prescription. The complaint, sent to the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, was written by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center. The organizations allege a pharmacy employee at a store on Coors Boulevard refused to fill a misoprostol prescription to a teenage woman who was at the store with her mother last August, citing personal reasons. This refusal, according to two complaints, violates the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex. “Refusing to fill prescriptions that are directly tied to the attributes that make women different from men—i.e. the ability to become pregnant—constitutes sex discrimination,” the complaints read.