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Recent protests in Albuquerque highlighted the in-your-face tactics and localized approach of the new anti-abortion movement.
Joey Peters

America’s Auschwitz?

Anti-abortion groups use in-your-face tactics and local action to push for abortion limits

August 13, 2013, 12:00 am
Janiece Jonsin had her first abortion nearly 50 years ago.

“I had no idea what sex was or how babies were made,” says Jonsin, a Santa Fe resident who supports abortion rights.

Jonsin grew up in relatively conservative Boise, Idaho. As a teenager in the mid-1960s, she got pregnant three times by the boyfriend she says she loved at the time. Through it all, she says no one ever taught her about birth control or sex education.

“I mean, it sounds crazy today,” she says, “but you have to put it in the context of 1965: no Internet. No literature about sex. I was totally in the dark.”

She didn’t want to talk to her peers about it either, for fear of being labeled “a slut.”

After each pregnancy, Jonsin had an abortion—an illegal procedure at the time. She recalls having her abortions done in different towns during the dark of night and feeling “like a total criminal.” Each procedure was a difficult and emotional decision, she says—but that doesn’t mean she regrets it.   

“I don’t think any woman thinks, ‘Yeah, I can’t wait to get this thing outside of me,’” Jonsin, who went on to raise three kids, says. “It takes some thought. But again, it just wasn’t appropriate. Every baby needs to be wanted and be in a good environment.”

Jonsin’s abortions occurred just a few years before the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 abortion decision in Roe v. Wade. The ruling established a balancing test between women’s privacy rights and the state’s duty to protect a baby’s life. Today, the ruling is generally interpreted to mean that abortions must be available to women before a fetus is “viable,” or has at least a 50 percent chance of surviving outside the womb. Generally, the age of viability is thought to begin around 23-24 weeks.

Today, Jonsin says abortion rights are under attack. She’s worried about a proposed ballot initiative in Albuquerque, which would ban abortions after a fetus reaches 20 weeks.

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Janet Gotkin, treasurer of the National Organization for Women’s Santa Fe chapter, warns that the consequences of the ballot initiative extend well beyond Albuquerque. All three of the state’s abortion clinics are located there, which means women who live in rural areas may face even more hurdles in getting to an abortion provider.  

“These actions really affect women all over New Mexico,” Gotkin tells SFR.

But for anti-abortion activists, the city represents an opportunity. For one, it’s home to Southwestern Women’s Options, a clinic that provides abortions into the third trimester. The city also lets residents gather signatures for ballot initiatives, which isn’t allowed on the state level.

Nationally, anti-abortion groups are finding new ways to push their agenda—including shifting their focus to the local level. Indeed, bans like the one proposed in Albuquerque were recently passed in Texas, North Dakota and Arkansas. (Some have since been struck down in court.)

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson says the abortion debate may continue to play out locally.

“There’s such gridlock in Washington; it can’t get anywhere in the federal government,” she says. “Certainly the Senate wouldn’t move on an issue like this. The Democrats would stop it. Where do you go?”

In addition to going local, anti-abortion groups are also looking for ways around Roe v. Wade. At a protest last week in Albuquerque, Mark Harrington, president of Columbus, Ohio-based anti-abortion group Created Equal, called for activists to help “enact legislation in spite of Roe v. Wade.”

“For 40 years, we have tried to reverse Roe v. Wade as a federal law,” he said. “I think we can look back and say we failed at that.”

The Albuquerque protests featured out-of-state pro-life groups like Operation Rescue, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust and Created Equal. At the clinics, roughly 35 teenagers and young adults from California held blown-up images of bloody fetuses and signs with slogans like “ABQ: America’s Auschwitz.”

Using such graphic images is controversial, even within the anti-abortion community. During a town hall meeting last week, anti-abortion activist Lloyd Martinez asked if the images could be oriented “towards the clinic and not towards the population.”

Harrington replied that while there may be disagreement about using graphic images, “I think we must all come to the conclusion that they work.”

“There’re going to be people that are upset,” he said. “You’re not going to win them. They’re not your friends anyway.”

But California-based Survivors took the tactics even further, protesting in front of the New Mexico Holocaust & Intolerance Museum to demand that it open an exhibit on abortion. The museum refused.

Harry Rosenfeld, a rabbi at Albuquerque’s Congregation Albert who’s active with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says he takes offense when one group tries to co-opt another’s genocide.

“For each group, the times that it has been oppressed and killed are very personal and seen within a lens of their own experience,” Rosenfeld says. “To use language that another group uses or owns, as it were, is insulting and demeaning to the feelings of that group.”

Many anti-abortion groups are also pushing for incremental change rather than an all-out ban. The proposed ballot initiative, for example, would limit so-called “late-term” (after 20 weeks) abortions, which currently make up just over 1 percent of all abortions in the US. Recent polling shows that roughly half of Americans support a 20-week ban, while far fewer support banning abortion outright.

“I think sometimes there has to be this middle ground,” says Bud Shaver, an Albuquerque anti-abortion activist who’s played a key role in the ballot initiative. “And so as we work in the community, we try to build a bridge.”

Shaver says anti-abortion groups “came together to look at the options” after limits on abortion repeatedly stalled in the state Legislature; a team of lawyers examined potential challenges to the Albuquerque ballot initiative.

Such a challenge is likely. The American Civil Liberties Union’s local chapter deems the measure unconstitutional because they view 20 weeks as predating the age of viability. Federal courts have struck down more stringent measures, such as North Dakota’s six-week ban and Arkansas’ 12-week ban, for the same reason.

The ballot measure faces other hurdles. The city attorney has questioned whether a 20-week ban could be properly enforced; the city clerk has questioned whether there will be enough time to verify the submitted signatures by the Aug. 19 deadline in order to make the ballot this fall.

Jonsin, for her part, says comprehensive sex education—rather than curtailing abortion rights—is the best way to prevent abortion.

“People are human beings, and we have sex,” she says. “And that’s never going to stop.”


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