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Constitutional right to abortion gone, but not forgotten

Rage, joy, heartbreak and relief are just a few of the emotions that Americans felt after the constitutional right to abortion was overturned this past June. Post-Roe America put the decision into states’ hands, but split America into even more of a red-blue divide. While most New Mexico political leaders support the pre-Roe law of no bans or limits on abortions, the upcoming election could prove to be a turning point.

When discussing abortion, most people associate the Republican party with a “pro-life” stance and the Democratic party with a “pro-choice” stance. These political parties, however, have not always disagreed on whether abortion is a woman’s bodily autonomy issue or a fetal rights issue. 

A Southwest Coalition for Life volunteer kneels in prayer outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Las Cruces, N.M. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (Photo by Elizabeth Kidd/Kokopelli)

In 1972, polls showed that 68% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats agreed that the decision to have such a procedure should be decided by the woman and her physician. The following year, in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the right to privacy implied in the 14th Amendment protected abortions as a fundamental human right. 

Now, after almost 50 years, Roe has been overturned and it’s been left to the states to decide whether to ban or permit abortion. A July 2022 Pew Research Center survey shows 57% of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision. Polls also show that registered Democrats say the court’s decision has increased their motivation to vote.

Abortions could possibly be banned nationwide if Republicans take majority control of Congress next year. In September 2022, U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., proposed a bill that would restrict abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in all 50 states.

For now, state abortion laws vary widely from one state to another. In Texas, abortion at all stages of pregnancy is banned with no exception for rape or incest. There is a provision for life-threatening emergencies. In contrast, neighboring state New Mexico has virtually no bans or limits on abortion.

Data now show people from Texas are traveling to New Mexico to receive abortion care. The University of New Mexico Center for Reproductive Health, which provides abortion care, says that 75% of its clients are from Texas. In 2019, prior to the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 24% of legal abortions performed in New Mexico were obtained by out-of-state residents.

(Image courtesy of Pew Research Center)

Running for re-election as the Democratic nominee for governor of New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing the state continue to provide unrestricted abortion care. In opposition, Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti proposes to ban abortion care in New Mexico after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but provide exceptions in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Ronchetti says the decision should not be left up to politicians, and proposes a statewide vote.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is running for re-election for his third term as Texas governor. Abbott proposes upholding the Texas ban on abortion. Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, if elected, aims to restore abortion access. 

Southwest Coalition for Life, an organization located in El Paso, Texas, works with volunteers in Las Cruces, New Mexico. These local anti-abortion activists gather outside of Planned Parenthood centers and women’s health care facilities throughout Las Cruces and pray to end abortion.

When asked about their stance on abortion, they explained that they are “pro-life all the way.”

“To me, [abortion] is murder; it’s murdering a child,” said one volunteer, who asked not to be identified. The volunteer added that if the mother’s life is at risk, then there needs to be definite consideration in what happens.

The same volunteer said that the most important thing voters need to do for the upcoming election is be educated.

Members of Students for Reproductive Rights appear at a rally to protect abortion access near the Corbett Center Student Union Saturday Oct. 15, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Students for Reproductive Rights)

“Think seriously about what you’re doing if you should choose to have an abortion, because there are consequences to the way we vote. So, they need to be educated on what they are voting for and against … they need to think seriously about abortion,” the source said.

Most New Mexico voters either believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases or illegal in all or most cases. Only a small percentage of voters say they “don’t know,” according to 2014 Pew survey data.  

Gina Lawrence, an associate professor with the Department of English at NMSU, explained that abortion has a deeper definition and affects many people.

“It’s important for all of us to recognize that this issue is not just about cis women of reproductive age. All people are affected by abortion bans. Abortions are needed for various complex reasons and any blanket ban is an assault on public health and the right to self-determination,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence has also been a faculty adviser for the Students for Reproductive Rights group at NMSU. Prior to assisting the activist group, she was also a faculty adviser at The University of Texas at El Paso for Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. Additionally, she has served as the director of media and communications for West Fund, an abortion fund in El Paso.

“The fight for bodily autonomy includes abortion, as well as so many other health care rights, including access to gender-affirming care. All these rights are inextricably linked,” Lawrence explained. 

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