Locals weigh in on shifting abortion climate

Residents weigh in on issue as March for Life descends on D.C.

Leigh Black Irvin
Anti-abortion demonstrators arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday during the March for Life.

FARMINGTON — Today  marchers descended on Washington, D.C., for the annual anti-abortion protest, March for Life. For the first time in the march's 43-year history, a sitting vice president spoke at the event.

Some who oppose abortion think there is a good possibility that the person who President Donald Trump chooses to fill a currently vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat will vote with a majority to repeal the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the United States more than four decades ago. Local reaction to the changing climate for abortion rights was varied today.

Sarah Herth — organizer of ProtestPP, a local group that meets monthly to publicly protest Planned Parenthood — has participated in the March for Life in the past, but was unable to do so this year as she is awaiting the imminent birth of her child.

"In the 44 years since Roe v. Wade, over 60 million babies have been killed by abortion, and I am very hopeful that we will see Roe v. Wade overturned soon," she said.

Demonstrators participate in the Four Corners March for Life on Jan. 15 from St. Mary's Church to Sacred Heart Parish in Farmington.

Herth said she would like to see tax dollars directed away from Planned Parenthood and into community health centers.

"In New Mexico, there are six Planned Parenthood locations, compared to 165 community health care clinics," she said. "With our tax dollars redistributed to these health centers, women will have much greater access to health care. Women and unborn babies deserve so much better than abortion."

Father Timothy Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Farmington, sees this year's March for Life as being especially positive for anti-abortion advocates.

"I think the fact that Vice President Pence (was) at the March for Life is a major plus for the cause," said Farrell. "We have a central belief that life begins at conception, and it should be protected."

About the possibility that access to free or low-cost medical care for low-income women could be threatened if Planned Parenthood is de-funded by Congress, Farrell said that women have options for health care other than Planned Parenthood.

"Planned Parenthood has a nice PR scheme, but there are plenty of places women can get health care," he said. "The main focus of Planned Parenthood is abortion and everyone knows it. Enough is enough."

Participants in the March for Life march near the National Mall in Washington on Friday.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Farmington does not offer abortion services, but does provide low-cost or free-of-charge pregnancy testing, birth control options, sexually transmitted disease testing, annual Pap tests and other gynecological care for women on a drop-in basis, according to Marshall Martinez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico.

"One in five women in America will visit Planned Parenthood at one point in their life," Martinez said. "Planned Parenthood is a 100-year-old organization. When people think of visiting a science-based, compassionate, judgment-free clinic that treats people regardless of their faith or beliefs, they think of Planned Parenthood. We do provide abortion services at many of our locations, and we're also proud of that."

De-funding Planned Parenthood, Martinez said, is actually about limiting a woman's ability to choose how she wishes to use her Medicaid insurance.

"It's about telling her that she can no longer come to Planned Parenthood to get the birth control that she's been getting for four years. It's about telling a woman where she can and can't spend that money," he said.

The Rev. Tom Goebel, pastor of Bethany Christian Church in Farmington, said he felt the March for Life was a positive thing, as he agrees all life is precious.

"But my concern is I wish they would be more specific when they say 'life,'" he said. "I feel the scope isn't large enough to include all life. If they're going to have a march about unborn life, can we also march to get better health care, better education and better orphanages for unwanted children?"

Ultimately, Goebel said he feels efforts to criminalize abortion would be overstepping the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

"I think it's a huge mistake to legislate into the womb," he said. "Also, how can you legislate a woman's decision, but not legislate about the man's decision to impregnate the woman? The government comes crashing in and making a law where they have no business making that law."

An anti-abortion sign and crosses are pictured on Friday in front of St. Mary’s Church on 20th Street in Farmington.

Gloria Lehmer, San Juan County Democratic Party secretary, agreed.

"Why should men be able to walk away scot-free while the woman is forced to have the child?" she asked.

Lehmer said abortions have actually been decreasing and she fears a reversal of Roe v. Wade would  take the country back to the days of back-alley abortions.

"There are horrific tales of women who died or almost died, and it was usually black women and the poor — white women were usually able to get safe abortions (before Roe v. Wade)," she said.

Carmel Gutierrez also serves on the San Juan County Democratic Party as the group's treasurer. Gutierrez said that she is a Catholic and is personally against abortion, but does not believe the government has any place getting involved in the decision.

"It's such a personal decision and should be between the woman, her family and her God," she said. "The main thing is that the government is telling us what to do with our bodies. But pro-life can't just be in the womb, we need to go further and ask what we can do to help these women and these babies after they're born."

Ann Campbell serves on the Farmington Right to Life Committee, which is the group responsible for setting up anti-abortion signs throughout town.

Campbell disagrees with the belief that criminalizing abortion would lead to more back-alley procedures.

"There are so many people in this country who want children," she said. "I believe we need to reach out to these women, and I have great hope that once they realize they're loved and that we want to care for them and their children, they will respect life and will quit choosing abortion."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.