The post-Roe abortion fight has already begun
A victory for abortion rights in New Mexico challenges assumptions — and points a way forward
Abortion rights activists are already preparing for a future without Roe.
"Looking at the Supreme Court it's not a matter of if Roe v. Wade is undermined or challenged or repealed, but a matter of when," New Mexico State Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena told The Week.
Last week in Cadena's state, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, repealing a state-level ban on abortion that predated Roe. Activists said overturning the currently unenforceable law, which would have been reactivated if Roe is overturned, is essential to preserving abortion rights.
Now, the organizing around the bill could be a model to other states. And the victory challenges some assumptions about who will drive the next phase in the movement to protect reproductive rights.
New Mexico is far from the only state where abortion access relies on the presence of Roe. Eight other states have pre-Roe abortion bans, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Additionally, 10 states have so-called trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion if Roe is overturned, meaning almost half of states would see an immediate criminalization of abortion.
Passing state-level protections, therefore, is essential to insure against an eventual upheaval of Supreme Court precedent. In New Mexico, it was the result of years-long campaigns led by women of color. Two years ago, abortion rights activists similarly attempted to repeal the ban but ultimately failed. At the time, critics and supporters of the attempt alike cited the state's large Hispanic and Catholic populations as culturally opposed to abortion rights.
Yet, in fact, 74 percent of rural New Mexicans agreed "personal decisions about abortion need to remain with New Mexican women, their families, and their medical providers," according to a survey by Forward Together and Latino Decisions.
Nicole Martin is the co-founder and sex educator at Indigenous Women Rising, and was a leader of both campaigns to repeal the ban. "We made a statement that Black and indigenous, and people of color, migrating relatives, people of faith, we can all trust that pregnant people can make complex decisions for themselves," said Martin.
When the 2019 bill failed, it was, in part, because Democratic state senators from the majority joined Republicans in voting against the bill. Five of those Democrats lost their 2020 primaries. Rep. Cadena believes they lost their seats because of their votes against the repeal.
"It really was assumed wrongly, from the left to the right, from feminist pro-choice banner waving allies to preachers in the local churches, everybody said, ‘New Mexico is too Hispanic and too Catholic to get this right,'" according to Rep. Cadena. She believes rethinking which demographics do and do not support leaving healthcare decisions to individuals is key for organizing for better access on a state level.
Martin agreed that communities of color did not come to support the repeal despite their identities. "We're leading with our community values as Indigenous people and our kinship protocols, extending compassion and care to our relatives."
New Mexico's repeal is important for ensuring access for nearby states as well. New Mexico state Department of Health data shows nearly 20 percent of abortions were for out-of-state patients in 2014. In the seven years since that research, neighboring Texas has repeatedly attempted to pass limits on the legal procedure including banning insurers from covering abortion in comprehensive health plans and even using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to stop all abortions.
The Texas state legislature is back in session, and despite the ongoing pandemic and recent power outages, the statehouse is introducing new restrictions on abortion care including new trigger laws anticipating the overturning of Roe.
Reproductive rights activists in the state have been forced to play defense against a barrage of anti-abortion legislation, according to Amanda Beatriz Williams, the executive director of the Lilith Fund, which provides financial assistance and other support to people seeking abortion care. Even though Roe provides an important precedent, she does not believe relying on the ruling is enough to protect access to abortion. "We spend so much energy, yes, on protecting Roe and, yes, on fighting the bad bills, but we spend just as much energy shoring up our infrastructure and our systems that are caring for people every single day," she said. The Lilith Fund coordinates with abortion funds in the country, supports food banks, and has a social worker on staff.
Texas, like New Mexico, has large rural populations that are at least 40 percent people of color with high rates of religiousness. But Williams agrees, assumptions about what certain demographics think about abortion rights are often incorrect. In Texas, Latinos who are likely to vote strongly support legal abortion, according to a 2014 survey.
Rep. Cadena says it comes down to how you ask the question. When she speaks with her own family members about abortion rights, she focuses on trusting individuals to make the right choice. Reappraising assumptions about who does and does not support abortion care could present a big opportunity to organizers.
Williams said, "Here's the reality, people of faith, all kinds of faith, and all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of demographics, all types of communities need abortion care, period."