Women Defend Abortion

A Santa Fe rally supporting national #StopTheBan draws small group of longtime women's rights activists

A couple dozen people showed up to a midday rally Tuesday at the Santa Fe Plaza to protest highly restrictive abortion laws making headlines across the country in recent weeks. The event was posted on Facebook by organizers Nancy McDonald and Andrea Thede around 6 pm Monday which, along with the dreary gray weather, may have accounted for the small number of people who showed up.

"We were both watching the national momentum growing, and we looked at Santa Fe and we thought, 'Where's the march? Where's the action?' That was last night," McDonald says. "So I asked Andrea, what are we gonna do? And she just said, 'Let's do it!' So we put the invitation out there and we thought even if it's just the two of us, there will be someone there."

Thousands of protesters participated in more than 400 rallies nationwide organized under the hashtag #StopTheBans by groups such as the ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in reaction to six-week abortion bans passed in Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, North Dakota and Georgia. These new state laws (known as "heartbeat laws," because five to six weeks is the timeframe when doctors can begin to detect a fetal heartbeat) effectively ban all abortions, because it typically takes longer for most women to realize they are pregnant and for pregnancy tests to reliably come back positive. The law signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp bans all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest. Now, many pro-abortion advocates worry that these laws could threaten to overturn the Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure nationally in 1973.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned by the current Supreme Court, it could mean trouble for New Mexico, where a 1969 criminal ban on abortion has gone unenforced for 45 years. In March, a bill that would have decriminalized abortion in the state and reinforced protections of women's reproductive health care rights was killed by the Democrat-controlled New Mexico Senate in a 24-18 vote.

Secretary of State and current candidate for US Senate Maggie Toulouse Oliver was among those who showed up to a rally in Albuquerque on Tuesday. "I'm tired of politicians who think they can dictate to women what should be private, personal decisions," Toulouse Oliver said in a prepared statement. "A woman's right to make decisions about her body is something that our country decided decades ago. We can't let them take us backward.  We need to be moving forward."

This sentiment was loudly echoed by the small group of women in Santa Fe, many of them veterans of the women's rights movement of the 1960s and '70s.

"I remember when abortion was illegal and people had to travel to certain states or out of the country. If you could afford one and you had the money, it was your choice; if you didn't have the money, it was not your choice. That is where we are headed again," Santa Fe resident Genai Ellen Wachs told the crowd. Wachs later told SFR that she remembers attending a march for reproductive rights in Los Angeles in 1970.

"I've been involved in the women's movement for 50 years. It's heartbreaking that we have to do this all over again," Wachs tells SFR, tearing up as she continued: "We all thought that we had secured this basic right ages ago."

Another woman, Gaile Herling, also remembers attending the March for Women's Lives in 1968 and the General Women's Strike in 1970 in Washington, DC, with her mother. In an email to SFR after the rally, Herling describes abortion bans as part of a larger issue of institutionalized sexism and racism.

"I see abortion rights as part of the larger question of women's rights in our country, which we've been struggling over since this country was founded. Women still don't make the same money as men in the same job with the same experience and education," writes Herling. "And women of color make less than white women for the same job. A problem pregnancy is still seen as the woman's issue, as if a man had nothing to do with it and is not responsible for it. Women are still not believed when they call out a man for sexual harassment or rape. … Not only does the US have the highest maternal mortality rate of developed countries, but African American and Indigenous women have three times the maternal mortality rate of white women."

These women who lived to see abortion legalized in their youth told horror stories at the rally of botched abortions and the stifling stigma of seeking reproductive care.

"For years I have told my daughter, 'You have no idea what it was like before,'" says Susie Hart, telling the story of a friend who was raped and unwittingly sterilized by the doctor to whom she went for an illegal abortion. "It was absolutely terrifying. … Women died back then, and women are going to die again. To young women I say, don't take your choice for granted. We fought so hard and went through so much."

Two white men yelled "make America great again" at the assembly as they passed through, and a car filled with men yelling violent slurs and pro-Trump slogans circled the Plaza.

One of the most pressing questions wondered aloud by participants was: Where are Santa Fe's women? In a fairly progressive town, where is the rage and the grief, the determination to do something, the masses of women standing up for reproductive rights?

Maybe a little more notice and little more sunshine would have been a start.

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