On the Anti-Abortion Front: A Review and Look Forward

January 10th, 2014 · 1 Comment · role of government

By Denise Tessier

Valencia County Commissioners this week voted down a proposed ordinance that would have banned abortions in unincorporated parts of that county after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

From Valencia County News-Bulletin reporter Julia M. Dendinger’s report that ran Thursday (Jan. 9) on the front page of its sister publication, the Albuquerque Journal:

Chairman (Charles) Eaton said he had a hard time supporting a measure that was “largely symbolic,” since there are no abortion providers in the county, late-term or otherwise.

In fact, as the story pointed out later, Commissioner Lawrence Romero sponsored the ordinance proposal – at the request of a Valencia County Right to Life chapter member – as a “pre-emptive strike” in case Albuquerque passed a late-term ban and medical providers then moved from the city to neighboring Valencia County.

But meanwhile, as news watchers know, Albuquerque voters rejected the ban. Anti-abortionists have vowed, however, to move their fight next to the State Legislature, which makes it a good time to reflect on the fact that out-of-state influence was front and center in the anti-abortion crusade that was foisted upon Albuquerque in 2013.

The Albuquerque Journal – handed a series of unfolding events by those advocating the late-term abortion ban – covered the issue thoroughly from the time supporters began collecting signatures through the ballot measure’s defeat on Nov. 20.

Despite the coverage, it’s interesting to speculate whether residents realized how complete the attempt to hijack the city was until they read the second line on the actual ballot, which was published in the Journal four days before the Nov. 19 vote:

The Citizens of Albuquerque declare the following. . .

What the “citizens of Albuquerque” then declared was a12-paragraph long tract on purported medical stages of fetal nerve reception in the womb.

The “citizens of Albuquerque” line was one of two things revealed by Journal coverage that stood out for this reader, the second of which I’ll get to later in this post.

The ballot language itself didn’t run in the Journal until just before the election, and then it was buried on C8 in with the classified ads, although readers were given a heads up with a Page 1 index referral.

It’s not surprising early voters were confounded by it. The language was unlike anything residents had previously encountered on a ballot measure, because the proposed ordinance was written not by policymakers or city attorneys, but by abortion ban advocates, many of whom had come to the state specifically to take the late-term medical decision away from New Mexicans.

Without specifically mentioning the “Citizens of Albuquerque” line, Joline Gutierrez Krueger made that point in talking about the ballot’s confusing language in an UpFront Journal column Nov. 8, noting:

This is not a snappy “should we ban late-term abortions in the city of Albuquerque” kind of ballot measure, but a complicated dissertation sought by advocates of abortions limits.

While leading with the “confusion” angle of the ballot, Krueger’s column stood out amongst the Journal coverage because she answered thoughtful questions that might not have been answered in other stories, questions Krueger said were posed by a reader, Carol Siemens:

How many clinics in Albuquerque provide late-term abortions at 20 weeks or more? (One.) How many late-term abortions are performed? (About 20 to 35 a year for pregnancies at 28 weeks or more, according to previous Journal reports, although proponents of the ban say the annual numbers are in the hundreds.) Do women come from out of state to have late-term abortions? (Yes.) Does Planned Parenthood do them? (No.) Do “unborn babies” feel pain? (The science is ongoing.)

Notice that even with women coming to New Mexico from out of state, the number of later-term abortions was about 20 to 35 a year.

Yet opponents were characterizing Albuquerque as the “late-term abortion capital” of the nation.

When supporters of the ban packed a City Council meeting – one day after the city had just held its regular municipal elections – to demand a special election, they attacked Councilor Trudy Jones personally and repeatedly, with one supporter saying, “May your sneaky ways be judged and forgiven by God.” Yet as Reporter Dan McKay noted in the Oct. 10 story, “Jones hadn’t tried to block the election.”

She merely introduced a resolution asking the city to determine whether an abortion ordinance would be unconstitutional. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King had weighed in with a letter to Jones saying it would “not be legally enforceable” and city attorneys had questioned its enforceability as well.

Add to that the out-of-staters’ other activities, which McKay outlined in a summary story a few days before the final election vote:

One organization, “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,” based in California, demanded an exhibit this summer at the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Downtown Albuquerque. That drew a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League and Mayor Richard Berry.

The same group also protested with signs and megaphones outside the North Valley home of a doctor they identified as an “abortionist.” That led to a new county law prohibiting protests outside a private residence.

The story also reiterated the history of the couple spearheading the effort, Bud and Tara Shaver, who had moved to Albuquerque specifically to shut down abortion clinics after being trained by Operation Rescue in Kansas, where abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered in 2009. After Tiller’s slaying, some of his colleagues had moved to Albuquerque. An Operation Rescue truck bearing gruesome photographs made its way around the city, drawing counter protests by sign-carrying residents objecting to “graphic propaganda,” especially in the University of New Mexico area.

And in the two weeks before the vote, zealous abortion protesters made the news for inappropriate behavior: A man yelling “abortion” at the top of his lungs interrupted the governor’s Veteran’s Day speech at the Veterans War Memorial and had to be dragged away by a group of older vets. A few days later a 48-year-old man was arrested because he would not stop screaming in the faces of students near the UNM library – allegedly after multiple requests from bystanders and police.

The Journal covered all of these stories.

And on the Sunday before the final vote, reporter James Monteleone disputed ban backers’ claims that inaction by the Legislature is what drove them to tie up city time and finances with petitions and an election.

Monteleone did this by quoting several legislators who said abortion-related bills come up regularly in the Legislature, and that lack of action “is an accurate reflection of the views of New Mexicans who routinely re-elect lawmakers who pledge to defend abortion rights in the state Capitol.”

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, a regular sponsor of anti-abortion legislation, however, told Monteleone the Legislature is “100 percent responsible” for the city becoming a focus because the Legislature had not enacted a ban. By the way, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s list of ALEC supporters in New Mexico, Sharer is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the well-financed group that trains legislators to carry out ALEC agendas at the state level (the focus of an earlier post this week).

In addition to the news stories – and a slew of letters, both pro and con – the Journal also received enough opinion pieces to run pro and con arguments (and paired them together – which is rare) on the Op-Ed page, among them:

  • Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan, following Catholic doctrine in urging support of the ban, vs. the executive director of the N.M. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Joan Lamunyon Sanford, writing on behalf of clergy and members of a number of religious traditions who “believe that it is not the place of any government to force any one particular reproductive health decision upon any woman.” (Nov. 10)
  • An Albuquerque man conceived to an unwed mother in 1976 (for the ban), paired with JuLuianana Koob of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, who reminded readers that abortion is a complicated, deeply personal medical decision. (Nov. 15)
  • Retired astronaut Sid Gutierrez (“Abortion, a double down on failure”), vs. former New Mexico League of Women Voters president Julia White, who said the league not only has voted to recognize a “pluralistic society” and the individual’s “right to privacy” but also endorses “programs that support child well-being.” (Nov. 13)

The Journal (not surprisingly) did not weigh in editorially on the ban itself, but did call for due consideration of  city councilors’ efforts to draft and hold elections by 2015 on a charter amendment that would reform the city’s petition-initiative process, citing not just the abortion ban, but lumping in with it the minimum wage initiative and another ballot related to runoff elections. From its Nov. 30 editorial:

How many poorly worded ballot proposals, put forth by a fraction of voters and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for each special election, can we have between now and then?

Because we’ve already had three in just over a year, at a cost of more than $1.2 million.

The editorial pointed out, after the abortion ban vote, that:

In addition to confusing construction in which a vote “for” was in fact a vote against late-term abortions, there was ongoing debate on the constitutionality of the measure, with each side citing legal opinions.

The second item that struck me in the coverage also came post-election. After the ban was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent, with 24 percent of registered city voters participating – 4 percent more than voted in the mayor’s race – a joint story by Monteleone and McKay reported that:

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., said the results are a sign that Albuquerque’s electorate is growing more liberal.

Now, that wasn’t a direct quote. That paragraph was followed by a real quote:

“Albuquerque is truly voting more like a real urban area,” he (Sanderoff) said.

Sanderoff added later that it was possible the anti-abortionists’ “zealousness turned off some voters.” That appears quite plausible. The same story quoting Sanderoff reported that abortion protesters triggered complaints at the Albuquerque Museum, where graphic “dead-baby signs” scared schoolchildren and museum security officers had to disperse the crowd when protesters impeded access to the museum, a polling site.

But let’s go back to the “growing more liberal” summation. That’s what struck me, because:

In the 1970s, New Mexico was one of the states that passed a federal Equal Rights Amendment (former Journal reporter Susanne Burks was one of those who fought for its passage).

In February 1978, New Mexico became the first state in the nation to initiate a pilot program allowing medical use of marijuana. Legislators passed the appropriately named Lynn Pierson Compassionate Act after hearing convincing pleas for mercy from the 26-year-old UNM business student and chemotherapy patient, who couldn’t keep food down without the drug. (Pierson was the first person approved for the program but died without receiving any legal marijuana. As I wrote in a March 22, 1999 editorial while still at the Journal, the widely emulated New Mexico program fell victim in 1986 to budget cuts – even though the program had a mere $50,000 annual budget – because of its fragile political standing, exacerbated by the federal government’s continued view of marijuana as contraband. New Mexico was without a program more than a dozen years before the current program – itself considered pioneering – was established.)

I could offer other examples: New Mexico’s constitution essentially protects the use of Spanish in schools; the state has 21 actively self-governing Native American tribes (unlike other states, like the home of the Texas Rangers, which virtually eliminated such populations).

One 20-year-old woman told Journal reporters after leaving a poll site at Jefferson Middle School she voted against the ban because any time after 20 weeks is a “very dangerous time for a woman to have an abortion. I don’t see women going into an abortion lightly, especially after five months.”

This echoes the sentiments Krueger illustrated when quoting a 47-year-old elementary school teacher and mother who was told late in a pregnancy that her baby had no kidneys and other severe abnormalities. “I can’t even imagine feeling sick and grieving and having to go through something in which now your doctor’s hands are tied or they hesitate because they don’t know what they can do legally,” the mother said. “You can’t write an ordinance like this to cover every exception, because every situation is different.”

Note, too, that in September, before the voters saw an actual ballot or had been subjected to the bulk of ban supporters’ protests, Sanderoff’s polling showed 54 percent of likely Albuquerque voters in support of a ban, vs. 39 percent who would oppose it and 7 percent who were undecided. In that story, Sanderoff noted that Democrats were less unified in opposition to abortion than Republicans.

Honoring a women’s control over her body, one could submit then, is not necessarily a “liberal” view.

The point here is that New Mexicans aren’t necessarily “growing more liberal,” but merely being who we are: tolerant and compassionate and respectful of women’s rights – and wary of those who try to impose dictates and restraints upon us.

Meanwhile, as we approach the legislative session that starts Jan. 21, abortion protesters continue to garner ink in the Journal. A Dec. 11 column on the Op-Ed page and a letter this week from Los Lunas (no link available) both claimed that late-term abortions are an “industry” and an “extremely lucrative business.” The column was headlined, “Late-term abortions all about the money; The industry and its political allies reap the benefits of grisly deeds.” If someone writes a column or letter counter to this claim, the Journal will likely run it.

But readers deserve reportage to corroborate or dispute these claims. Let’s hope the Journal will deliver.

 

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