Augusta Liddic/The Daily TimesPeter Hayden holds a pro-life sign outside of Planned Parenthood clinic on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Peter Hayden holds a pro-life sign outside of Planned Parenthood clinic on Thursday, March 14, 2013. (Augusta Liddic)
FARMINGTON — There are few subjects more controversial than abortion. While many people choose to steer clear of this sensitive and sometimes explosive debate, San Juan County has its share of individuals on both sides of the fence who are not afraid to have their voices heard.

Large pro-life/anti-abortion signs have been showing up in prominent locations throughout the county over the past few years, containing messages such as "God is pro-life," "Abortion is always the wrong choice," and "Please don't believe the lies, abortion kills a baby."

But there are also people working from a different angle, ensuring that women who have been raped do not feel they have lost control of their lives and have choices.

San Juan County Right to Life has provided most of the signs by request to individuals, businesses and churches for display on their property. The non-profit's mission is to promote pro-life issues through education and outreach efforts.

Many on the side of "abortion is always the wrong choice," as the sign says, believe that even in the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape, abortion should not be an option.

"We have a woman on our board who was the product of a rape," said Ann Campbell, who is on the San Juan County Right to Life board. "Should she have been disposed of because her mother was raped? When a woman is raped, it's just perpetuating and enhancing more violence if she has an abortion.


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Campbell had three abortions in the past, and said she feels strongly about the negative after-effects of abortion.

"Eighty three percent of those who have either had or participated or supported someone's abortion are suffering from post-abortion stress syndrome," Campbell said. "The psychological damage, along with physiological problems that go along with abortion, and the unrecognized grieving women go through for years afterward, is staggering."

San Juan County Right to Life President Marie Strickler added that her organization believes that post-rape abortions punish an innocent child.

"Was it the child's fault? Does the child have to pay the price for the father's crime?" she asks. "Also, statutory rapes and sexual abuse are often hidden by abortions, allowing predators to continue to abuse the victim."

Others who work directly with victims of sexual assault believe sending the message that abortion is always the wrong choice may contribute to a woman's sense of lack of control over her own body, which is an essential part of the healing process following the devastating experience of rape.

Eleana Butler is Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center in Farmington. The center does not provide abortion services, but does provide emergency contraception as well as support and information about options to women who are survivors of assault or rape.

"Our perspective is that we want to make sure there is no shame or blame for the survivor of assault or rape, and we want to make sure they have lots of choices," said Butler. "During an assault or rape, the woman has no choices or control over her body. After the rape, the woman wonders, 'is my body OK?' We help them regain control and let them know they do have choices and do have control over their body. What decision they make is their individual choice, and what's right for one person is not going to be right for another. We support their choice."

Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said her organization takes the stance that a woman should have accurate information about all of her pregnancy options, and said the messaging in signs like those being displayed locally can have negative repercussions for women.

"Information should support a woman, help her make a decision for herself, and enable her to take care of her health and well-being. Information should not be provided with the intent of coercing, shaming, or judging a woman, which the messages do."

McCafferty added that questions about when life begins are personal, and decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must ultimately be left to a woman, her family, and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor or health care provider.

"We can't know a woman's specific situation - it's just not that simple," she said. "We also know that many Americans don't use the 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life' labels to identify themselves, reflecting the complexity of how people think and feel about abortion."

Father Tim Ferrell is Pastor of the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Farmington. Farrell said that since his church believes human life begins at conception and abortion following a rape should not be an option.

"An unborn child is just that, a child, even in those very devastating but very rare circumstances such as rape," said Ferrell. "Most abortion is done out of convenience, not rape."

Ferrell pointed to one of most confounding questions surrounding the abortion debate -- when is an embryo or fetus determined to be a human being?

"People will say it's either a blob of tissue or it's a human being," he said. "But the blob of tissue won't develop into anything but a human being, so we believe that it's a human being at the moment of conception."

Annette Mendoza has been working for years to empower women in the community, and has been involved in various fundraisers to support women who have been assaulted or raped. She is also an advocate for causes that seek to end violence against women, such the "One Billion Rising" event last February in Aztec.

Women are denied rights and they have their entire lives changed by rape, and yet are they to be further traumatized by this growing reminder within them of the victimization?" Mendoza said. "Do women have no say over what they do with their bodies?"

SIGN CODES

The ubiquitous anti-abortion signs are part of Farmington's character.

But what are the city regulations concerning the placement of "issue" signs. And is it possible for anyone to post a sign supporting his or her religious or political beliefs regardless of the impact those signs might have on others?

Article 5 of the city's Unified Development Code provides detailed guidelines for acceptable signage, including upkeep requirements for signs, maximum size allowed, placement, etc.

The code states, "Éthe city continuously invests in parks, trails, landscaping, quality public facilities and other features and amenities that enhance the attractiveness of the community; a major purpose of this (code) is to ensure that signs in the community are compatible with the image that the city seeks and in which the city continuously invests."

While campaign signs are regulated and can only remain in place for a certain number of days following an election, there are no such limits in place pertaining to "issue" signs.

"In regards to the (code) sign regulations which read in part 'Éto ensure that signs in the community are compatible with the image that the city seeks ...' refers to function, architecture, and construction relative to the surrounding physical environment. The ordinance regulates size relative to buildings or street location as well as lighting factors. The city does not regulate the message content of signage," said Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell.

City Senior Planner Cindy Lopez said issue messages such as anti-abortion signs that do not relate to a specific event may remain in place indefinitely.

"We have to be careful of people's right to freedom of speech, and the regulations we have are to keep signs from looking ragged or torn, and to minimize those that obstruct the beauty of our community," she said.

Lopez did, however, say that the pro-life signs are, in a sense, political in nature.

"I would say that they are political signs to some degree, but the code refers more to the candidate signs. We can't discriminate about a sign's message, and that's the federal law," she said.

Regardless of which side of the abortion debate people find themselves, the signs are most certainly generating discussion and thought about the issue.

Lorrollee Hamill and her family own the field that lies directly east of Planned Parenthood on 20th Street. Hamill has allowed a sign that reads "God is pro-life" to be posted on the corner of her field, facing west-bound traffic.

"I think the sign is kind-of nice," said Hamill. "Whether people are religious or not, or whatever they believe about abortion, at least it makes them stop and think."

Leigh Irvin may be reached at lirvin@daily-times.com; 505-564-4610; Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes