November 11, 2016

Abortion rights supporters find hope in local election results

Joey Peters

Marshall Martinez, left, speaks to supporters at a Planned Parenthood "Pink Out the Vote" rally on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016.

Despite the national results, proponents of abortion rights in New Mexico have some things to celebrate about coming out of the local elections.

A political action committee for the local branch of Planned Parenthood spent more than $21,000 to target four state legislative races, according to state campaign finance reports. After Election Day, those seats came out 3-1 in their favor.

“I think we had a total of 21,000 doors and phone calls across the state,” said Marshall Martinez, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico.

Martinez estimated that 40 percent those who helped Planned Parenthood in the New Mexico campaigns were volunteers.

On top of this, Democrats, who usually support abortion rights, took back control of the state House of Representatives and likely expanded control of the state Senate.

Three of the seats won by Democrats and supported by Planned Parenthood were in the Las Cruces area. They include incumbent state Sen. Bill Soules, incoming state Sen. Jeff Steinborn and incoming state Rep. Joanne Ferrary.

The women’s health provider also supported Democrat Ane Romero, who lost her challenge to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, which opposes abortion rights, is celebrating the loss  by longtime Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Michael Sanchez.

Sanchez lost to Republican Greg Baca.

“Getting rid of Michael Sanchez was extremely important for pro-life,” said Dauneen Dolce, the group’s executive director.

Sanchez lost after being heavily targeted by a Republican Super PAC with ties to Gov. Susana Martinez.

Dolce acknowledged that Republicans losing control of the House wasn’t going to help her cause, though she added that “some Democrats are pro-life.”

Her organization’s political action committee spent roughly $8,500 on local races this election. The strategy did not include phone-banking or door knocking, but instead sending 24,000 mailers to homes in 24 different districts across the state.

For the coming legislative session beginning in January, Dolce said her group is working with the Alliance for Life New Mexico to plan an agenda.

“We’re trying to pull everybody together that is interested in pro-life legislation,” she said.

In the past, this has meant supporting bills that would require people under 18 to notify their parents or guardians if they were getting an abortion. Another bill the group has supported would require doctors to show ultrasounds to women before they get abortions.

In the 2015 legislative session, when Republicans controlled the House, bills like these passed the House and then died in the first committee once they got to the Senate.

Now, with Democrats in control of both branches, these bills could die sooner.

“I’m excited that I think we will have to spend less of our time on defense,” Martinez said, “because we put up a strong wall, for lack of better terminology, to block those off.”

Martinez added that Planned Parenthood hasn’t “made a final decision on proactive legislation” for the upcoming session, but that they are “always looking at ways to expand access to contraception.”

“That’s going to be one of our top priorities, moving forward, is making sure that folks especially out in rural parts of the state and where there maybe isn’t a Planned Parenthood health center in nearby distance have equal access to contraception,” he said.