June 4, 2020

Primary wins for progressive Democrats a ‘mandate’ on abortion rights, say activists

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Laura Paskus

With five out of seven grassroots challengers winning seats in the state Senate, some of which were historic upsets, activists said on Wednesday the wins are a “mandate” for reproductive healthcare.

With most precincts reporting for the primary, five grassroots progressive Democratic challengers won over mostly long-established incumbent Democrats who were moderate or conservative-leaning, according to unofficial results.  All seven of the incumbent state Senate Democrats voted against HB 51, a bill that would have repealed the 1969 abortion ban.  

Marshall Martinez, New Mexico field director for Forward Together Action, said that the challengers openly spoke about HB 51 and publicly supported it, which now that so many of the challengers have won, makes abortion rights a “mandate” for the next legislative session. 

“The challengers named HB 51 as a key reason they ran. New Mexicans have said very clearly access to reproductive health, including abortion, is a priority,” Martinez said.

Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Action Fund, called the five wins “an important step” toward repealing the 1969 law. Abortion rights activists are concerned that with a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, the court will overturn Roe v. Wade. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has said it sees New Mexico as a bastion of abortion rights in the future. But that might not be the case if the old ban on abortion is not abolished.

Taylor-Nanista told NM Political Report last week that reproductive rights groups only needed to flip two seats in the Senate to have enough votes to pass a bill in the 2021 legislative session that would decriminalize abortion.

“This election proved that voters truly care about protecting access to abortion care, with 91 percent of Planned Parenthood Votes NM-endorsed candidates going on to win their primary races,” Taylor-Nanista wrote in an email.

Some though, see the win as being part of a larger mandate. Ellie Rushforth, reproductive rights attorney for American Civil Liberties Union-New Mexico, said the “mandate” is “playing out on the backdrop of oppressive and violent policing and anti-Blackness in America.”

“Abortion bans and other restrictions on reproductive healthcare are a form of violence against the bodies of the most system-impacted and marginalized. There can be no reproductive justice while Black and Brown people are being killed by police.”

Rushforth also spoke about the fact that many of the challengers who won did so with limited funds comparatively to the incumbents. 

“It proves what we thought all along,” Rushforth said. “Voters will not stand for attacks on rights and health care and they are excited about candidates who champion civil rights and civil liberties.”

Another group called LGBTQ Victory Fund, based out of Washington DC, issued a statement on the New Mexico legislative races because the wins of Leo Jaramillo in Senate District 4 and Carrie Hamblen in Senate District 38 could mean that more openly gay and lesbian candidates could increase the number of LGBTQ representation in the state Senate if they both win in November. Both will be heavily favored in the general election.The House could also see an increase.

Hamblen will face Republican Charles Wendler in the general election. Jaramillo will battle with Republican Diamantina Storment and Libertarian Lee Weinland.

“For constituents health care is a priority and so many other social justice issues matter. It’s incredibly important at this time,” Rushforth said.