NM reacts to leaked opinion showing SCOTUS is poised to end federal abortion rights protections

Local abortion fund organizers and activists say they’re ready to channel anger into action

By: and - May 4, 2022 5:00 am

Siihasin Hope Alvarado speaks to the large crowd gathered in the intersection of Lomas and Fourth Street in Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday, May 3, about how abortion rights are an “extension of Indigenous sovereignty.” (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

Hundreds gathered in Albuquerque in front of Downtown courthouses to demonstrate in support of abortion rights on Tuesday night after it was leaked that a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices are ready to strike down the constitutional right to abortion in the coming weeks.

Elected officials weighed in, too, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham breaking from a stream of informational wildfire-related social media posts to express her commitment to reproductive health care. The decision, she wrote, would be “devastating” for New Mexicans.

Demonstrations were also slated for Santa Fe and Las Cruces. If federal protections are destroyed, a patchwork of laws will blanket the U.S. as states determine on their own the legality of abortion.

New Mexico’s congressional representatives and senators also spoke up, with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich writing in a news release that “a woman has a right to make her own health care decisions without the government getting between her and her medical providers. That right shouldn’t depend on what state she lives in or how far she can afford to drive. But right now, that all hangs in the balance.”

His statement references recent changes to law in Arizona and Texas — and other parts of the U.S. — restricting access and sending people seeking abortions over state lines into N.M. for care.

Though so many expressed shock or panic nationwide, abortion fund organizers and advocates in New Mexico say they are ready to channel those feelings into action.

Staff at Bold Futures New Mexico were not surprised by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court’s position, but it still stings, said Charlene Bencomo, the executive director there.

“Even though we anticipated it, it doesn’t take away the disappointment or the worry for people across the country who need access to abortion care for themselves or their loved ones,” Bencomo said. “There’s just a sadness and a fear for what’s to come — not just for the rest of my lifetime, but for our children.”

To Bencomo, the attack on abortion access is a rejection of her ability to make decisions about her own body.

“It feels like an overarching sort of doom that we have been anticipating,” Bencomo said. “That flood of emotion and fear has been washing over a lot of the folks even in our own staff.”

Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation carry a banner as they lead over 1,000 people marching and chanting phrases like “abortion is a human right, fight, fight, fight” around Downtown Albuquerque on the evening of May 3, 2022.

With disparate laws across the country already, the impacts are felt most by working families with low incomes. Even if someone seeking a legal abortion in another state can get beyond barriers of finding child care and taking time off work, “there is still the stigma that comes along with it, the fear that comes along with it,” Bencomo said.

Jennifer Lim, a spokesperson for New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, wants to make one thing clear: Abortion remains legal today regardless of the leaked draft opinion.

Despite the justices’ disregard for people who need abortions, she said, that remains unchanged. A final ruling is expected to come down from the conservative-leaning Supreme Court within the next two months, but regardless, “people will continue to have abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and they will need even more support,” Lim said. “We ask for folks to follow the lead of local abortion funds and clinics, and Black and Indigenous leaders at the forefront, and uplift their work now more than ever.”

No matter the final ruling, the religious coalition and other abortion funds in New Mexico will continue to provide practical support to everyone they can and “align our work with our values, rooted in faith and bodily autonomy for everyone,” Lim said.

“We will continue to work to make sure people get access to abortion care when they need it, on a timeline of their choosing, and in a community and environment they trust and feel safe in,” Lim said.

Rachael Lorenzo is the co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, one of the few national abortion funds in the United States. They said while many characterize Roe as the epitome of abortion access, in reality, it is the bare minimum.

“It is the least that this country can do to protect abortion access,” said Lorenzo (Mescalero Apache / Laguna / Xicana). “For Indigenous people, this is not new. This is how a lot of abortion funds operate: We’re operating as if Roe doesn’t exist.”

Since as far back as 1492, Indigenous peoples’ reproductive abilities have been interrupted by colonization, Lorenzo said, and the latest from the Supreme Court is just a more nuanced version of what has been happening for five centuries.

“This is every day for us,” Lorenzo said. “Whether it’s Indigenous people, low-income Black people, poor white people, immigrants, we have all been saying we need access to this kind of care. And it matters every day, every year, not just when an election is happening or when the Supreme Court is up to shenanigans.”

Lorenzo said it’s a privilege for middle-class white people to say things like, “Well, why don’t you just move to a blue state?” or “We have to protect Roe!”

“It has already been dismantled in so many ways over the decades. What is so different?” Lorenzo asked. “We’re really excited that you are angry and that you wanna do something about it, but please look to the people who are already doing it.”

The work ahead

In the face of laws to restrict abortions rolling out around the country at the state level, the U.S. House managed to pass an expansion of abortion rights in September. No Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) walked a fine line this week, admonishing the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion while also affirming the sentiment and invoking religion. “The possible leak of a Supreme Court decision is an unprecedented attack on the independence of the court,” she tweeted.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday promised a vote to protect the right to an abortion nationally by enshrining it in federal law.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján called on his colleagues to finally knock down barriers that have held up key pieces of legislation in Washington. “Congress cannot wait on the sidelines until it’s too late,” he said. “The Senate must eliminate the filibuster immediately to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and other vital pieces of legislation.”

Meanwhile, staff at Bold Futures New Mexico were “bombarded” by people asking what they can do at this moment, Bencomo said, before justices issue a final ruling, which is expected to happen in June.

The radical thing to do, Lorenzo said, would be to find out what is already happening in your backyard, so you don’t reinvent the wheel and you truly start building a coalition with others.

What’s at stake is not just abortion access for people who may find themselves with an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, Bencomo said. The anticipated ruling will almost certainly trigger more restrictions around abortion care, she added, and put in immediate jeopardy other fundamental rights like right marriage, contraception access and sexual privacy.

That holds with what legal experts are saying. The leaked ruling comes from Justice Samuel Alito, who contends, in part, that the right to an abortion is not explicitly outlined in the Constitution. If that’s what the Supreme Court’s final opinion hinges on, a whole range of other previously established rights could drain away, too, including “access to contraception, interracial marriage and gay marriage and sex,” report Jacob Fischler and Ariana Figueroa with States Newsroom.

Overturning Roe would hand power over abortion to states. Many would ban it.

People who need abortion care have also historically needed STI testing, gender-affirming care, hormonal care, infertility treatment and contraception access from highly trained providers, Bencomo pointed out.

Unlike many other states that are set to criminalize abortion as soon as Roe is overturned, New Mexico permits abortion but does not actively protect it as a right.

New Mexico should do more, advocates said Tuesday.

Both Lorenzo and Bencomo point out that bodily autonomy is not just the narrow legal right to have an abortion but involves all the other issues affecting peoples’ everyday lives.

“We cannot continue to live on the edge of one or two votes that hold our bodily autonomy in the balance,” Bencomo said. “We’ve got to do more to deepen the protections around abortion care.”

Bencomo points to legislation in Colorado and California that go beyond just allowing abortion care and truly build in protection for people who will need abortion care for years to come.

“I am so passionate about abortion access, and I love New Mexico,” Lorenzo said. “I love my land and my people and where I come from, and I I know that the more people we have helping us and the more people who trust in Indigenous leadership, the more fruitful our efforts will be to protect abortion access.”

Demonstrators hold up signs supporting abortion rights, trying to draw the attention of passing drivers at the corner of Lomas and Fourth Street at an event organized by Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

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Marisa Demarco
Marisa Demarco

Marisa Demarco is an Albuquerque-based journalist and lifelong New Mexican whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent almost two decades as a reporter, producer and newsroom leader, co-founding the New Mexico Compass, and editing and writing for the Weekly Alibi, the Albuquerque Tribune and UNM's Daily Lobo. She began a career in radio full-time at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health and criminal legal reform for much of the last seven years. During the pandemic, she was also the executive producer for “Your NM Gov” and “No More Normal,” shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice.

Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.