Vice president visits with NM governor in ABQ to reiterate importance of protecting abortion

Reproductive rights remain a significant political point for General Election

By: - October 26, 2022 4:40 am

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Dr. Eve Espey, the chairwoman of UNM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology served as moderators during the discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

As early voting continues and General Election day creeps closer, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the University of New Mexico to talk with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday about reproductive rights — a central concern for voters.

One of the main points in the election for Democrats is their stances to protect abortion care services. Though the event on Tuesday wasn’t touted as political, elections came up more than once and some pointed out the timing of the event coinciding while polls just opened for early voting. Election Day, on Nov. 8,  is less than two weeks away.

In addition to the governor and vice president, Rep. Melanie Stansbury, also on the ballot this year, spoke along with. Sen. Ben Ray Luján and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. 

Ultimately, many said, if Americans want abortion to be protected in New Mexico and the broader country, they need to vote blue.

Harris said the attacks on reproductive rights extend to creating issues with contraceptive access and LGBTQ+ rights.

High maternal mortality rates

Another issue Harris has been trying to bring attention to on a federal level is the disproportionately high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people that give birth as well as those that live in rural areas.

“It literally has to do with the fact that when she walks into that doctor’s office or that clinic or emergency room, she’s not taken seriously,” Harris said.

“Elections matter,” Harris said. “This is not a political event but elections matter”

What’s on the table for this election is reproductive rights, Lujan Grisham pointed out.

“It’s not just about an election effort,” Lujan Grisham said. “It’s about making sure that folks know what’s at stake, that democracy is on the ballot everywhere, not just in New Mexico.”

The election will help determine the reality of codification

Lujan Grisham recently announced that she will try to codify abortion if she’s reelected. To get that done, a bill needs to pass through the state Legislature.

When asked if she has any state representatives or senators in mind to work with on this, she said she’s not thinking of anyone in particular yet — because she said so many will be up for the task.

“I don’t have a specific legislator in mind because there’s going to be so many that are going to be interested in doing that work,” Lujan Grisham said.

Included in what she said would likely be a large number of legislators interested in protecting abortion are Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) in the House Judiciary Committee and Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I think they are well-poised and postured to make sure that New Mexico really does stand up for choice, for individual freedoms and successes, and to get that done here,” she said.

Some legislators attended the event, including Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque). She said although she wouldn’t sponsor a bill because others have more expertise in the area, she’d definitely support it and push for it to get through the Roundhouse.

New Mexico Democrats hold the majority in both the state House and Senate. Thomson said she felt fairly confident that would remain the same after the election, adding that Democrats might even be able to snag a few more seats in the House.

Still, despite having a majority of Democrats and females in the House, not everyone is in favor of reproductive choice, she said, “so we have to make sure that we have the numbers in the House through this election to do what we need to do.”

Lujan Grisham said even lawmakers with more neutral positions in the past could swing to support legislation protecting reproductive rights. These abortion-banning positions in other states have gone too far, she said.

“It’s outrageous. It’s a whole different set of circumstances,” she said. “And I do think it’s an awakening.”

Although abortion is a powerful point, it’s not enough to make or break an election, Lujan Grisham said. “But do I think women and their families in New Mexico are concerned about choice and bodily autonomy? Yes, I think they are,” she added.

The issue is also coming into play in elections on a federal level. Luján and Stansbury both talked about the Women’s Health Protection Act they’re trying to push through the U.S. House. The Democrats need to have a majority in the House and Senate to get abortion codified, Stansbury said.

And Biden has vowed if that happens, he’ll sign the bill into law legally protecting abortion nationwide.

So this election is more consequential than ever, Stansbury said.

“Between the attacks on our democracy, the election denialism that continues to pervade even the election cycle that we’re seeing right now — across the board, almost every candidate on the ballot is facing an election denier — and the rollback of our rights, we have to be fighting every single day,” Stansbury said.

Does N.M. have enough health care workers?

New Mexico has had a surge of patients seeking abortion come in from out of state as it’s flanked by other states with more restrictive practices or bans on abortion.

Harris said New Mexico is a safe haven for people coming in from states like Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma to get abortion care.

“In a state like New Mexico, you’re now taking on the responsibility of loving thy neighbor and looking out for folks who are fleeing their own state,” Harris said.

Nationwide, Harris said she’s seen health care providers facing intimidation, threats and harassment for doing their jobs. Lujan Grisham brought up the safeguards she signed that protect medical providers from legal retribution and prevent extradition for abortion-related practices in New Mexico.

But the state’s struggling to find enough health care workers to provide abortion care. The lack of workers was present even before Roe v. Wade fell. 

New Mexico abortion clinics strained over capacity with out-of-state patients

Thomson brought this up and said she talked to someone who wants to go into OB-GYN but is thinking about switching specialties because of the tense climate and other states’ bans on abortion. “What a loss because we need those people,” she said.

One of the priorities for the legislative Health and Human Services Committee is to address provider shortages, she said, and committee members are considering a number of ideas to solve this issue, including tax breaks for people in residencies, having less burdensome licensure processes and working with other states so people can come to practice here.

“We are trying to do everything we can,” Thomson said.

Rural areas are especially vulnerable to this worker shortage. Lujan Grisham said providers in the state and the Biden-Harris administration have helped to ease this problem.

“That is incredible work by this administration and I can tell you unequivocally would not happen under any other administration,” Lujan Grisham said.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.

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