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Post-Roe, abortion is playing a central role in NM governor's race

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at a rally in support of abortion rights at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.
Alice Fordham
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at a rally in support of abortion rights at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

With the right to an abortion now up to each state, and numerous surrounding states imposing total or partial bans, New Mexico has become a safe harbor in the Southwest for those seeking and providing abortion care. The issue has become a significant one in the race for governor.

The day the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization came down in June, overturning Roe v. Wade, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the stage at a rally against the decision at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque.

“This is a state that has your back,” she said to cheers in the crowd. “We’ll stand not only as a beacon of democracy, but we’ll do a whole lot more than just have words. Actions matter.”

The following Monday she signed an executive orderprotecting abortion providers and patients from other states from discipline or criminalization within New Mexico.

“We will do everything we can,” she said at a news conference announcing the safeguards. “Including, I will not be executing — if there were any — any warrants for extradition for any provider related to this issue.”

Lujan Grisham had already signed legislation the year before repealing a dormant state law that would have criminalized the procedure here once Roe was overturned.

At that news conference, she made a promise.

“As long as I'm Governor, everyone in the state of New Mexico will be protected. Out-of-state residents seeking access will be protected, providers will be protected,” she said. “And abortion is and will continue to be legal, safe and accessible. Period.”

But with the upcoming election, the condition, “as long as I’m Governor,” is up for a vote. Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti is vying to unseat the first-term governor and has proposed banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the life of the pregnant person. He has been criticized for this position by both the left and right.

The state’s Democratic Party launched the website Ronchettionabortion.com to highlight changes to language on his campaign website since the Supreme Court decision, including removing a pledge to “champion religious freedoms and the Right to Life.”

Democratic Party spokesperson Daniel Garcia said the candidate’s website update was intended to hide his actual policy positions from voters. The Ronchetti campaign denied that the candidate’s position on the issue has ever changed, let alone disingenuously.

Conservative pastor Steve Smothermon discussed the 15-week ban proposal during a July sermon at the Legacy megachurch in Albuquerque.

“I know a lot of us got mad, and I did too,” he said. “I had a long talk with him for hours. And I said, ‘dude, right out of the gate you blew it.’”

Smotherman told congregants that Ronchetti said his goal would be to ban abortion altogether.

“He said, ‘but I can't just go in and do it all 100%, because we won't ever get elected.’”

The Ronchetti campaign has denied the candidate told this to the pastor, and the Albuquerque Journal reported that, after his sermon made headlines, Smotherman said Ronchetti didn’t tell him anything that wasn’t already in his ads.

In an ad titled “You deserve the truth,” Ronchetti tells voters, “I'm personally pro-life. But I believe we can all come together on a policy that reflects our shared values. We can end late-term abortion while protecting access to contraception and health care.”

Ronchetti has focused much of his messaging on so-called “late-term abortions,” (which actually isn’t a medical category) since New Mexico doesn’t have a cut-off for when a pregnant person can access the procedure.

Lujan Grisham defended the state’s lack of restrictions on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper in June, saying people seeking abortions late in pregnancy have often planned to welcome a child before encountering heartbreaking medical issues.

“I don't believe government has any right to interfere and judge those decisions when two medical providers are providing that information directly to their patient,” she told Tapper.

Lujan Grisham signed another executive order in late August that allocates $10 million to build a clinic in Doña Ana County and directs state agencies to leverage resources to expand access to reproductive health care, including abortion, in underserved areas.

Ronchetti called the governor’s policy “extreme,” highlighting the use of taxpayer dollars to fund a clinic that would provide third trimester abortions, which he says are out of step with voter values.

He’s since doubled down on his bet that New Mexicans want limits on abortion access by proposing a statewide referendum.

“Everybody in the state of New Mexico should be able to vote on it, and come up with something that fits our shared values,” Ronchetti said at the KOB-TV gubernatorial debate in September.

This would mean working with the Democratic-led legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot.

Lujan Grisham pushed back on the idea.

“I don’t need someone to vote on whether or not I can make a decision about my own healthcare,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Lujan Grisham campaign told the Associated Press that the governor would oppose any attempt to further restrict access to abortion in the state.

The Your New Mexico Government project is a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS with support from the Thornburg Foundation.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
Related Content
  • When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republican candidate for governor Mark Ronchetti called for “measured dialogue on the issue of abortion” to reach “policies that are more mainstream and reflect our shared values.” The Democratic Party of New Mexico launched a website Wednesday calling the candidate’s recent messaging on the issue an inauthentic shift to a more moderate stance. Ronchetti's campaign denies that there has even been a shift in the candidate's position.
  • 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.
  • In-person early voting for November elections begins October 11 in New Mexico. That’s also the first day absentee ballots can be mailed to voters who may be unwilling or unable to vote in person. KUNM spoke with the Secretary of State’s office about options for getting your ballot counted.