Militant Journalism

Eastern New Mexico: a frontline in the fight for abortion rights

Activists demonstrate for abortion rights in New Mexico. Liberation photo

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in the summer of 2022, protests sparked in cities across the country. New Mexico was no different and saw many hundreds in the streets in the first weeks after the egregious attack on abortion rights. 

However, as in many “blue states,” protests in New Mexico shrank quickly as the sentiment grew that the 2021 repeal of a 1969 New Mexico trigger law made New Mexico a safe haven for abortions. Importantly, the ban was only repealed after a long campaign led by grassroots organizers

Many New Mexicans, especially in the rural areas of the state, are fully aware that their rights are still in jeopardy, as long-time anti-democratic strategies by the rightwing have come to the fore since the repeal of Roe

New Mexico is illustrative of the wider rightwing effort to undermine abortion access, as well as other democratic rights. The rightwing is packing local governing bodies with hardline conservatives, many developed by anti-abortion think tanks. Conservatives use this town-by-town strategy to test the waters with small pieces of local legislation, working piecemeal to turn back many democratic rights. This has been especially focused on smaller border towns, but these tactics are now being employed widely by the rightwing of the ruling class. 

This organized and concerted effort to end this essential right to health care has implications far beyond the evisceration of women’s rights. The overturning of Roe was a strong indication of the hard-line conservative plan to use the Supreme Court as a vehicle to turn back many democratic gains.

Texas Right to Life — an association funded by pastor Mark Lee Dickson — is very vocal about this small town, local legislation strategy and takes pride in having pushed through 64 anti-abortion bans of this nature in local communities across the country.

The aim of these ordinances is to criminalize people having or aiding someone in having an abortion. Some legislation, like SB 8 in Texas, allows the enforcement by private citizens. 

Another tactic used by the far right utilizes the archaic law known as the Comstock Act of 1873, which prohibits one from sending “lewd” or “immoral” items through the mail. The rightwing interprets this outdated law to include safe and widely used abortion information and medications as mifepristone and misoprostol — the “abortion pills” that many people depend on in states were abortion is now illegal. 

In New Mexico, the far right has been successful in passing anti-abortion legislation locally in Clovis, Alamogordo, Hobbs and now Portales, as of January 2023. Some of these areas function as health care deserts already, meaning that certain health care needs can only be met by a 200+ mile drive to Albuquerque. There are no OB-GYNs in Portales, and patients have to travel to Lubbock, Texas, or neighboring Clovis in order to get help with their pregnancies. Beyond this, the OB-GYN clinics in Clovis are rotating — meaning that pregnant women will not have a consistent doctor throughout their trimesters.

Organizers in rural eastern New Mexico are attempting to counter these right-wing trends in their cities and towns. After the repeal of Roe, Eastern New Mexico Rising was founded in July 2022. One of their organizers — Laura Wight, a librarian living in Clovis — has been attending county commission meetings with others for months to point out the harms caused by these laws and to speak out about the lack of access to adequate health care already present in eastern New Mexico. As a result, she and others have been the target of insults, harassment and personal affronts for standing up for their community members who are too afraid to speak. Speaking with Liberation News, Wight shared that she has been contacted by many people that support abortion rights — despite their elected officials — and thank her and ENMR for speaking out. 

In early 2023, the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined ENMR in their fight to quash these ordinances. Speaking to organizers, Wight shared her and ENMR’s frustrations with the Democratic Party and its lack of support for their efforts. The Democratic Party In New Mexico holds a significant majority in both houses of the legislature but has done little to challenge local developments. 

In recent weeks, ENMR has filed petitions to put the anti-abortion ordinances in Portales and Clovis to a vote. To create a mandate for such a vote, the group needs 30% of the voters to sign the petition. In Clovis, the level of apathy towards the current governmental system led to an extremely low voter turnout — which in turn meant that the group needed only 270 signatures to force an election. Though the count has not yet been authenticated at the time of this article, the amount of signatures currently gathered exceeds the needed number.

After a long year of protests and activism led by groups like Eastern New Mexico Rising, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and others, there was a clear mandate for Democratic Party lawmakers to finally work on developing legislation to protect the right to an abortion in the state. House Bill 7 was introduced at the first session of the 2023 legislature under the title “Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act.” This bill states “no public body or person in a public body [so no city, county, district or even the state government] can discriminate against, restrict, deny or criminalize gender-affirming and reproductive healthcare.” It specifically lists abortions. 

This development is a definitive win in the movement and reflects the hard work of activists. Unfortunately, it does not call for the expansion of abortion access in New Mexico. New Mexico is an overwhelmingly rural state with little access to abortion facilities. This bill sets the stage for lawsuits to be carried out in areas like Clovis but does not deal with the immediate needs of all forms of reproductive health care — from abortion to maternity care — to be delivered to these parts of the state. New Mexicans will continue the fight for an expansion of abortion access in the state.

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