Beyond ‘Women’s issues’: Finding our footing in divided discourse

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 […]

Beyond ‘Women’s issues’: Finding our footing in divided discourse

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. My hometown of Albuquerque had recently been declared a new “mission field” of deeply committed anti-abortion activists, including some recent arrivals who labeled New Mexico the “late-term abortion capital” of the country. Their concentration in the state exposed fissures in a Republican coalition otherwise unified on many matters. (For one, activists parked a truck plastered with graphic imagery outside the house of Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief strategist Jay McCleskey, who was not pleased.) Delving into news clippings from past legislative sessions made it clear that much of the same heated rhetoric cycled through public conversations as it has, almost continuously, since the Roe v. Wade decision.

As the 2015 state legislative session wound down, I turned my attention as a reporter elsewhere, still watching from a distance as abortion and reproductive health activists, as well as Martinez’s administration, focused on a public hospital with a reputation as one of the top-rated facilities in the country for primary care and rural medicine instruction. Controversy stemmed, in part, from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center’s working relationship with Southwest Women’s Options, a private clinic that provides later abortions and has also donated fetal tissue for medical research. I read along as Protestants, Catholics and other faith community members continued to find themselves grappling with conflicts of messaging, strategy and priorities.

New arrivals who’d declared New Mexico a battleground termed themselves as part of a movement counteracting what they and their allies termed “mass slaughter” and an abortion “Holocaust.” A lack of funding impacted Planned Parenthood’s range of service provision and two clinics closed their doors. A man who’d declared himself “a warrior for the babies” fatally shot three people at a clinic in Colorado Springs, leaving nine others wounded. Congressman Steve Pearce joined forces with out-of-state anti-abortion leaders, including Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, to raise funds and scrutiny of an Albuquerque abortion provider that has donated fetal tissue for research at the University of New Mexico. It’s been evident to me that many of my neighbors, in a dizzying span of ways, have felt upended, fiercely protective, even threatened.

A cascade of major upheavals in my personal life, including a nearly two-year relocation to Washington, D.C., meant my return home in October had me feeling even more acutely aware that this is not an easy place to feel sheltered or heard, especially in times of heightened public polarization.

It was just over a year ago I feebly offered words of comfort to a friend mourning his childhood friend’s three murdered children, after her ex shot them and himself in northeast Albuquerque. Colleagues have reported too many harrowing stories of cruelty and neglect of children, in some cases their own mothers weaponized against them. No place is immune to horrific events, and ours is a beautiful place in all forms. Yet New Mexico families face deprivation and hardship that are exceptional in the U.S., while prosecution of crimes like rape and assault languish for years, even decades.

Families wrapped up in our criminal justice system struggle uphill to stay whole. One incarcerated woman, 26-year-old Erika Hamilton, sued the state last month for confining her in shackles while she gave birth, and another, 33-year-old Monique Hidalgo, had to win her own court battle to be allowed to breastfeed her baby.

I also returned in time to witness several rounds and many hours of public testimony of neighbors who thwarted the Sandoval County Commission’s effort to open the county to oil and gas extraction. It was testimony that included tribal members referencing the confrontation over tribal sovereignty and water conservation at Standing Rock. They spoke of traditional spiritual beliefs that land we inhabit is maternal in nature, that proposals of elected leadership too often constitute forcible invasion of those beliefs.

All of these issues illustrate the widespread polarization of our political discourse, grown in some ways even more inflamed than what I observed in 2015. And there are few issues in which the polarization is so deep and rancorous as abortion and reproductive rights.

It’s on that basis that I seek to approach this new phase in my work as an ongoing exercise in promoting more civil discourse. In addition to the Society for Professional Journalists code of ethics, my goal for this upcoming series is to draw on demonstrably effective guidance in the course of public interest reporting, using language of a public conversations project that helped diffuse tension in another community rife with fractious, often harmful, confrontations.

Among the practices (paraphrased from the aforementioned guide) I plan to draw from:

  • Encourage my sources to reflect upon and share the complexities of their views
  • Deepen readers’ understanding of the issues being discussed
  • Explore connections among what are conventionally framed as “oppositional” views and experiences
  • Foster a better understanding of the values, hopes, fears and assumptions at the center of convictions held by people in my stories
  • Seek deeper understanding of how factions in these debates are stereotyped by their so-called “opposition”
  • Seek clarification and context for slogans, shorthand, and buzzwords that tend to oversimplify issues and which may actually mean different things to different people

While I carry my own personal feelings and perspectives with me in my work, both in first-person commentaries like this and reported stories, accompanying them is a will to direct those clear from my retelling of what others share about their feelings and perspectives.

Margaret Wright is a contributor to NM Political Report. Email her at [email protected]

 

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report