WED: Crowd protests relocation of abortion clinic to New Mexico, + More
Crowd protests relocation of abortion clinic to New Mexico - Associated Press
Anti-abortion activists from across the U.S. converged in southern New Mexico on Tuesday to protest relocation plans by the Mississippi clinic at the center of the court battle that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, but New Mexico's governor vowed not to back down from her support for access to abortions.
Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection, tweeted hours before the protest that access remains legal and safe in her state.
"New Mexicans understand the right to make personal decisions about one's own reproductive health care — and we won't go back," she wrote.
The crowd gathered in triple-digit temperatures in the southern city of Las Cruces, near the location where Jackson Women's Health Organization plans to open its new clinic next week.
Some held signs that read "Pray to End Abortion" and "Vote Your Values." They heard from the leader of a local Catholic parish, a university student group and activists from Texas and Mississippi who talked about their experiences shutting down abortion clinics elsewhere.
Terri Herring, president of Mississippi-based group Choose Life, told the crowd about more than two dozen pregnancy centers in her state that have helped mothers who were considering abortion but opted to have their babies instead.
"We need to make this a refuge for women and their children," she said of New Mexico, before organizers of the rally announced they would open a Guiding Star Project clinic next door to the planned abortion clinic. The facility will provide fertility care, pregnancy and childbirth support services as alternatives to the abortions planned for the former Mississippi clinic next door.
Leah Jacobson, founder and CEO of The Guiding Star Project, told the crowd that the root causes of what is driving women to abortion need to be addressed and that a culture shift is needed to counter what she described as a loss of "bodily autonomy through devices, pills, drugs and surgeries."
"If we love life, if we want to protect women and children, we need to understand that there is something fundamentally broken about how we are treating motherhood in our culture," she said, pointing to the lack of maternity leave or breastfeeding spaces, among other challenges. "How about we actually take the needs of women into consideration?"
New Mexico's Democratic-controlled Legislature supports access, and state lawmakers last year repealed a dormant 1969 law that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, ensuring access to abortion even after the Supreme Court rolled back the national guarantee.
Preparations are well underway for the new abortion clinic, with furniture and equipment from Jackson Women's Health Organization moved from Mississippi, and it is due to open soon.
"We're just trying to tie up loose ends," Diane Derzis, owner of Las Cruces Women's Health Organization, told The Associated Press on Monday.
Derzis said Tuesday's demonstration against the abortion clinic didn't bother her since protests have gone for years at other clinics she has owned in Mississippi and elsewhere.
"It's not a big deal," she said. "That's life at an abortion clinic."
Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan, in Albuquerque, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
Fatally injured New Mexico helicopter crew member called 911 - Associated Press
One of the four first responders killed in last weekend's New Mexico helicopter crash managed to call 911 before succumbing to his injuries, according to emergency dispatch recordings.
It's not clear which crash victim made the call Saturday evening to San Miguel County dispatchers, according to the recordings that were made public on Tuesday. The call sparked a frantic search for the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office helicopter in the hills near the northern New Mexico community of Las Vegas.
An unidentified dispatcher said over emergency frequencies that the person who calling said they saw dust when the helicopter hit the ground but no smoke or flames. The person also reported that gas was leaking from the aircraft, which was full of fuel because the crew had refueled before taking off for the trip home.
Searchers took more than 30 minutes to find the wreckage, their work complicated by nightfall and increasing difficulties that the initial survivor had in communicating, the dispatch records indicated.
"Subject is in a lot of pain and disoriented," a dispatcher said at one point.
State police officers who arrived at the scene first initially reported there were two unresponsive patients and two who had died.
Authorities have said that the helicopter crew had wrapped up a firefighting mission and were returning home to Albuquerque when the crash happened. They had spent a few hours that afternoon dropping buckets of water on a wildfire burning on private land near Las Vegas.
The crew included Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King.
The National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this week that the helicopter came down at a high rate of speed, hitting the ground upright before toppling over. Aerial footage of the scene showed mangled wreckage among pinon and juniper trees.
Federal investigators are expected to release a preliminary report about the crash in a the coming weeks and the full investigation could last a year or more.
New Mexico tax changes benefit lower-income residents - Associated Press
The tax burden for funding state government and public schools in New Mexico is shifting slightly toward wealthier residents as the state stops collecting taxes on most Social Security benefits.
The Legislature's budget and accountability office estimates that recent state tax reforms will reduce state income by about $94 million during the budget year that began July 1. New Mexico this month stopped collecting income taxes on social security benefits for individuals who make $100,000 or less, or joint tax filers who report $150,000 or less in annual income.
The estimates were published Tuesday as the Legislature's lead state budget-writing committee met in Silver City to discuss tax policy, wildfire recovery efforts and trends in crime and crime prevention.
New Mexico will ramp down income tax collections further through an exemption for military pensions, the creation of a child tax credit and an expansion of other tax credits aimed at low-income households.
As a result, state government will forgo an estimated $403 million in annual income for the fiscal year starting in July 2023.
The analysis indicates that tax changes will benefit lower income residents more than those in upper income brackets.
"The tax burden borne by the top 5% increased slightly, while the burden borne by the other 95% dropped significantly," the office of the legislative finance committee said in its July newsletter.
At the same time, the state's direct financial reliance on the energy industry — dominated by fossil fuels — is expected to increase.
New Mexico, the nation's No. 2 producer of crude oil behind Texas, is experiencing a windfall in state government income tied to oil and natural gas production through a variety of taxes, royalties and lease sales as energy prices surge.
Much of the income surge from fossil fuel production is being stockpiled in trusts to benefit public schools and early childhood education programs.
At the same time, New Mexico's Democratic-led Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have approved roughly $1.1 billion in rebate-style payments to residents since 2021, including a series of payments this year in June, July and August as inflation hits a 40-year high.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is seeking reelection in November.
The Republican nominee for governor, former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, is advocating for automatic future payments to residents out of surplus income from oil and natural production.
The November ballot includes a statewide referendum on whether to increase withdrawals from the state's $26 billion land grant permanent fund to increase spending on public schools and early childhood education.
Ronchetti has to walk a fine line on abortion as election nears, expert says – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
New Mexico’s Republican candidate for governor emphasized in public comments that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a chance for “measured dialogue” on abortion and that his position — that abortion should be banned after 15 weeks, with exceptions — is “a very reasonable position that most in New Mexico will support.”
That Mark Ronchetti is pointing to debate and consensus on the polarizing topic shows the balance he’ll have to strike if he wants to convince Democrats to vote for him, said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor and pollster.
“He’s probably done some internal polling, and he kind of has an idea of where New Mexicans are at,” he said. “And he feels that he might not have much choice but to allow some wiggle room, to even move a little bit further to the left. But not too far.”
Sanchez said he hasn’t seen any polling of New Mexicans’ views on abortion since the Supreme Court ruling. But, generally, he said New Mexicans “are actually pretty progressive” when it comes to abortion rights, especially when it comes to cases of rape, incest or protecting the parent’s life.
A poll in mid-June by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by New Mexico Political Report, found that 55% of New Mexicans believed abortion should always be legal or be legal with some exceptions. Just 13% of the 642 New Mexicans surveyed said abortion should always be illegal, and 29% said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or protecting the life of the person who’s pregnant.
That result is consistent with trends found by national pollsters in New Mexico in older surveys. The Pew Research Center, in its “Religious Landscape Study” conducted in 2007 and 2014, found that a consistent but a slim majority (51% in 2014) of New Mexicans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Ronchetti has pushed back against recent attempts by Democrats to paint him as fully anti-abortion. The state Democratic party has recycled statements from his recent United States Senate run and primary race that they say show he is against abortion in all circumstances.
For example, his old website from the primary race criticizes opponent Rebecca Dow for saying “we have to uphold Roe v. Wade” in a debate as an example of a “liberal” position she’s taken on issues.
And in the “abortion” section of his website for his Senate race, Ronchetti said life should be “protected at all stages” and then goes on to state that he opposes late-term abortions and that “unborn babies have souls, can feel emotions, and are every bit a human being.”
But Ronchetti spokesperson Enrique Knell said Ronchetti was simply calling out Dow’s hypocrisy in the first example and, in the second, said he was not referring to stages of pregnancy when he said “all stages.”
“He says life should be protected at all stages, referring generally to ‘life,’” Knell told Source New Mexico. “‘Stages’ in this context does not mean ‘trimesters.’”
Knell also said Ronchetti has been consistent in opposing late-term abortions and has not changed his position.
“Mark has always been clear and consistent on his position and the fact that he is pro-life. He has also consistently and adamantly stated that New Mexico should not be the nation’s late-term abortion capital, as it is right now,” Knell said. “As soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Mark articulated a very clear position he will take as governor.”
Last week, Ronchetti was again forced to defend his abortion stance as moderate and in line with the values of New Mexicans after a fact-check by KOB. Pastor Steve Smothermon, in a recent sermon cited by the news outlet, told the congregation that Ronchetti had assured him that, if elected, he would push for a full ban on abortions in New Mexico.
“He said, ‘Listen: I just want to start with getting rid of partial-birth abortions in the whole state, …,” Smothermon said of his conversation with Ronchetti. “And he said, ‘But I can’t just go in and do it all 100% because we won’t ever get elected.’ He said ‘I just want to start.’ But his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico. You say how do I know that? Because I talked to him for hours.”
Ronchetti’s campaign, in a statement to the news outlet, denied that Ronchetti had told the pastor that he wanted to end abortions in New Mexico.
Sanchez, the pollster, said it’s common for primary candidates across issues and elections to moderate their positions in the general election. When it comes to abortion, Ronchetti might be hoping to convince Democrats to vote for him by presenting a more moderate stance, especially if they have more pressing concerns, like the economy. Knell did not respond to a request for comment on whether the campaign thinks the economy will trump other issues this November.
Sanchez also anticipates that abortion suddenly being on the ballot in New Mexico wiill motivate Democrats more than Republicans to vote in early November, but he’s waiting to see if that means Republicans like Ronchetti will soften their positions on the topic to blunt that enthusiasm.
Mississippi clinic ends challenge of near-ban on abortion - By Emily Wagster Pettus And Leah Willingham Associated Press
The Mississippi abortion clinic that was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade ended a lawsuit Tuesday in which it had sought to block the state from enforcing a law that bans most abortions.
Jackson Women's Health Organization dropped its litigation a day after clinic owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press that she sold the facility and had no intention to reopen it, even if a state court allowed her to do so.
"If the clinic is not in a position to reopen in Mississippi, it no longer has a basis to pursue this case in the courts," Rob McDuff, a Mississippi Center for Justice attorney who was among those representing the clinic, said in a statement. Derzis said the clinic's furniture and equipment have been moved to a new abortion clinic she will open soon in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Court battles over access to abortion are playing out in multiple states following the Supreme Court's June 24 ruling, which gave states the authority to set their own laws on abortion. On Tuesday, West Virginia's only abortion clinic resumed scheduling patients for abortions, after a judge ruled in its favor. And new restrictions on some abortions were in effect in Indiana after a judge lifted a hold on them.
The Mississippi clinic — best known as the Pink House because of its bright paint job — stopped offering medication-induced and surgical abortions July 6, the day before Mississippi enacted a law that bans most abortions. Mississippi was one of several states with a trigger law that went into effect after the Supreme Court ruling.
The Mississippi trigger law, passed in 2007, says abortion is legal only if the pregnant woman's life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest.
On July 5, a state court judge rejected a request by the clinic's attorneys to block the trigger law from taking effect. The clinic appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, citing a 1998 ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that "includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion."
Because the clinic is dropping its lawsuit, the Mississippi Supreme Court will not issue a new ruling.
In West Virginia, Women's Health Center began scheduling patients for abortions for as early as next week after a judge on Monday blocked enforcement of the state's 150-year-old abortion ban. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that his office had filed a motion to the state Supreme Court asking for a stay to keep the ban in place while his office proceeds with an appeal.
"We believe it's critical to file for an immediate stay in light of this flawed decision and seek this emergency measure to prevent immediate loss of precious life," he said in a statement, adding that when "life is in jeopardy, no effort can be spared to protect it."
West Virginia's law, dating back to the 1800s, makes performing or obtaining an abortion a felony punishable by up to a decade in prison. It provides an exception for cases in which a pregnant person's life is at risk. Women's Health Center argued in court that the law was void because it had not been enforced in more than 50 years, and has been superseded by modern laws, including a 2015 law that allows the procedure until the 20th week of pregnancy.
Katie Quiñonez, Women's Health Center's executive director, called the judge's decision to block the law "a sigh of relief." The clinic has been posting on social media and is sending out information in an emailed newsletter to let people know they can once again schedule abortions.
But Quiñonez said operations won't simply go back to the way they were before the clinic had to shut down. She said the staff has been telling patients: "It's a moving target, things could change."
Anti-abortion activists from Mississippi, Texas and elsewhere rallied a crowd in Las Cruces on Tuesday evening and took donations for a new clinic that will provide fertility and pregnancy support services next door to the planned abortion clinic.
In Indiana, a law that bans abortions based on gender, race or disability was in effect Tuesday, a day after a federal judge lifted an order that blocked its enforcement. The law includes a ban on abortions sought because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. It was adopted by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature in 2016 and signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The law allows doctors who perform abortions in such cases to be sued for wrongful death.
Another federal judge has lifted similar blocks on abortion restrictions in recent weeks. The Indiana Legislature is expected to take action on additional abortion restrictions during a special session that starts Monday.
Meanwhile, an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio took the first step Tuesday toward suing Indiana's attorney general for defamation. Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist who gave the girl a medication-induced abortion on June 30, filed a tort claim notice over what she says were false statements made about her and her work. The notice starts a 90-day period for the state to settle.
After the girl's abortion was in the news, Attorney General Todd Rokita told Fox News that he would investigate if Bernard violated any laws, though he made no specific allegations of wrongdoing.
A 27-year-old man was charged last week in Columbus, Ohio, with raping the girl.
Woman who shot at New Mexico deputies in 2018 gets plea deal - Associated Press
A woman accused of shooting at Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies four years ago when she was being served a home eviction notice accepted a plea agreement Tuesday.
Albuquerque TV station KRQE reported Yvette Curry pleaded no contest to three charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon.
Curry was 55 years old at the time of the June 2018 incident.
Court documents show Curry and her husband divorced and the settlement stipulated the couple's home was to be sold with the profits divided.
But authorities said Curry refused to help facilitate the sale of the house and was given 30 days to vacate in May 2018.
Authorities said Curry would only talk with deputies through a window and then began shooting at them, which resulted in an hours-long standoff.
According to court records, Curry came out of the house at one point and pointed a gun in the direction of deputies.
One deputy fired back, hitting Curry in the arm, and authorities said she eventually was forced out of the home and taken into custody.
Prosecutors said as part of the plea deal, Curry will be released to a group home and must continue to take her medications.
Frequent lockdowns may have contributed to Uvalde tragedy - By Jake Bleiberg And Acacia Coronado Associated Press
Teachers and students at Robb Elementary School knew the safety protocols when an 18-year-old with an AR-15 style rifle entered the building in May. Dozens of times in the previous four months alone, the campus had gone into lockdown or issued security alerts.
Not because of active shooter scares — because of nearby, often high-speed pursuits of migrants coming from the U.S.-Mexico border.
An entire generation of students in America has grown up simulating lockdowns for active shooters, or worse, experiencing the real thing. But in South Texas, another unique kind of classroom lockdown occurs along the state's 1,200-mile southern border: hunkering down because Border Patrol agents or state police are chasing migrants who are trying to evade apprehension.
The frequency of lockdowns and security alerts in Uvalde — nearly 50 between February and May alone, according to school officials — are now viewed by investigators as one of the tragic contributors to how a gunman was able to walk into a fourth-grade classroom unobstructed and slaughter 19 children and two teachers. Although a slow and bungled police response remains the main failure, a damning new report by the Texas House says recurring lockdowns in Uvalde created a "diminished sense of vigilance."
With a new school year now just weeks away in heavily patrolled South Texas, there are worries the lockdowns will resume and deepen the trauma for scarred students in Uvalde, as migrant crossings remain high and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues expanding a massive border security operation.
"That's what it probably was, just complacency, because it does happen on a frequent basis," said Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Eulalio "Lalo" Diaz Jr., who had to identify the bodies of the dead at Robb Elementary.
The new findings that a culture of lockdowns in Uvalde played some role in the failures on May 24 reflects how one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history intersected with immigration policies and thousands of Border Patrol agents, National Guard members and state police assigned to apprehend migrants and stop drug traffickers. Of the nearly 400 law enforcement officers at the scene of Robb Elementary, more than half were Border Patrol agents or state police, according to the report.
On Tuesday, over the span of just 20 minutes, eight state police vehicles and Border Patrol SUVs cruised through Uvalde's central square, less than a mile from Robb Elementary.
Uvalde is about an hour's drive from the border with Mexico, located at the crossroads of two major state highways. Nearby are the cities of Pearsall, Dilley and Karnes – all of which have immigration detention centers with some of the nation's highest populations. More than 4,500 detainees in total were at the three facilities as of June 2022, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Jazmin Cazares, whose 9-year-old sister Jacklyn was among the students killed, told Texas lawmakers in June that no one in the school district took lockdowns seriously "until that day." She said she is now terrified to return for her senior year in the fall.
"Am I going to survive it? Unbelievable," Cazares said.
Even the first officers on scene at Robb Elementary wondered whether the threat was a so-called "bailout" — the term used by law enforcement along the border to describe suspected migrants or drug traffickers who have fled. Pete Arrendondo, the embattled Uvalde school police chief who has become the target of angry demands by parents to resign or be fired, told the House committee the thought crossed his mind since it happens so often.
The gunman entered Robb Elementary at 11:33 a.m. One minute earlier, according to the report, a fourth-grade teacher in Room 105 received a lockdown alert and made sure her classroom door was locked. That teacher also told the committee she saw a teacher across the hall locking the door in Room 112, one of two adjoining rooms where the shooting occurred.
The shooter is believed to have entered the classroom through Room 111, which was known to have trouble locking properly.
The signal the school's alert system sends out does not specify the potential threat. And because of the prevalence of lockdowns in recent months, according to the report, many teachers and administrators "assumed it was another bailout."
"Bailouts" has become an increasingly common part of Uvalde's vernacular in the last year as the area has become extraordinarily busy with migrants crossing illegally, largely from countries outside Mexico and northern Central America.
The Border Patrol sector based in Del Rio, Texas – one of nine along the Mexican border – was the most transited corridor for illegal crossings in June, replacing Texas' Rio Grande Valley. For much of the year, the two South Texas sectors have posted similar numbers of border encounters, well ahead of the others in California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas.
While many migrants turn themselves in to the Border Patrol in the border towns of Del Rio and Eagle Pass – each about an hour's drive from Uvalde – many seek to elude capture for hours or days, hiding in "stash houses" or in tall fields of corn and other crops for smugglers to pick them up at a previously agreed location for the drive to San Antonio.
The committee report said there had been no incidents of "bailout-related" violence on Uvalde school campuses before the shooting. High-speed driving sometimes crossed school parking lots, according to the report, which also said some pursuits involved firearms in surrounding neighborhoods.
Diaz, the Uvalde justice of the peace, serves as a magistrate when police make arrests in the area as part of the governor's massive border mobilization known as Operation Lone Star. He sets bail for people taken into custody for alleged human or drug smuggling, but also for crimes unrelated to national security, like minor drug charges.
He said Abbott's operation hasn't made Uvalde safer.
"These people who are coming through don't want to be in Uvalde," said Diaz. "They are looking to get away from the border and we're too close."
Over the last decade, many police departments have shifted away from having officers engage in car chases because they are a danger to the public. A 2017 report from the Justice Department found that between 1996 and 2015 police pursuits killed an average of 355 people annually, with nearly a third of those killed in vehicles not involved in the chases.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, who said he has not spoken to Abbott for nearly a month, has called on the governor to do even more on the border to curb migrant crossings. With classes set to re-start in less than two months, he worries about "the bailouts by the schools and so forth" and said "it needs to stop."
Angie Villescaz, who grew up in Uvalde and after the shooting founded the Latina mothers advocacy group Fierce Madres with local moms, said the border rhetoric is a distraction from the most pressing issue.
"They've always wanted to keep the narrative about securing the border," Villescaz said, "and now they can't because it's about securing our schools."