Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Dems rally in Las Cruces over abortion access amid counter-protest

LAS CRUCES – This election is about the right to vote and access abortions — not just the candidates. That’s the message democrats hoped to impart to a crowd of eager supporters during a rally in Las Cruces Saturday.

City Councilor Johanna Bencomo led a slate of speakers featuring former councilor and current US Congressional District 2 candidate Gabe Vasquez, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“We have an incredible list of speakers for you today,” Bencomo said. “To be really honest with you, we have some powerhouses.”

Counter-protestors with anti-abortion signs and iconography also attended the rally. Around 100 people walked around the perimeter of Albert Johnson Park holding signs and crosses. They stopped periodically to pray.

Participants in a counter-protest to a rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights sign up and pick up signs on Oct.  15, 2022. The counter-protestors gathered on a corner of Albert Johnson Park.

The two groups did not mingle, and no violence occurred during the event. However, dozens of police officers checked the park, and a New Mexico State Police tactical team staged in a neighboring parking lot. Bencomo also started the speaking slate by asking the abortion rights crowd to abstain from engaging counter-protesters.

“The best engagement with counter-protesters is no engagement at all,” she said. “So, can I get that commitment from you for your safety?”

Dems speak out on abortion access, voting

Vasquez, a first-time Congressional candidate challenging Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, was the event’s first speaker and also the event’s only male speaker.

“Today, we face a very difficult time in our country, where we have seen that this extreme Trump-appointed Supreme Court has reversed women’s health care rights and has taken us back to the Stone Age of American politics,” Vasquez told the crowd. “We have to make sure that we elect a congress and that we elect a Senate that will be able to codify Roe v. Wade into law in the next two years.”

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the right to access abortion in the United States.

For the court’s conservative majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “procuring an abortion is not a fundamental constitutional right because such a right has no basis in the Constitution’s text or in our Nation’s history.”

Gabe Vasquez, a candidate for US Congressional District 2, speaks to the crowd during a rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights on Oct.  15, 2022.

The move triggered a series of laws in Republican-led states to ban abortion, Texas being one of them. That put bordering states like New Mexico in the crosshairs of those looking to protect and expand abortion rights and those looking to revoke them.

It also put border communities like Las Cruces in the spotlight. The same clinic at the center of the ruling that overturned Roe vs. Wade found a new home in Las Cruces earlier this year. Lujan Grisham also pledged to spend $10 million on a new clinic in Doña Ana County.

Vasquez and the other speakers seemed to hold that top of mind Saturday morning.

“I get this question asked all the time by reporters, ‘what are Latinos thinking about abortion?'” Vasquez said. “You know what I tell them? I’m proud to be a Roman Catholic and Latino Democrat that supports every woman’s right to choose.”

Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Secretary of State, spoke next. Toulouse Oliver spoke about her personal experience regarding abortion. She said she became pregnant unexpectedly when she was 21.

“I had to make that really hard choice,” she said. “I was looking at my entire future and thinking, gosh, you know, if I have a child right now, all of my plans for my future could go completely astray.”

She said she decided to see the pregnancy through — but emphasized she was glad the choice remained hers.

“It was my choice,” she said. “And I got to make that choice; I chose my son.”

Toulouse Oliver also spoke about elections. She said that if Democrats did not turn out to vote this midterm, then they would lose the right to vote.

Toulouse Oliver is facing Republican challenger Audrey Trujillo, who referred to the 2020 presidential election as a coup and promoted false theories about election rigging and hacking of tabulation machines.

The crowd viewing rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights numbered above a hundred on Oct.  15, 2022 at Albert Johnson Park.

McGill Johnson and Timmaraju — both from out of state — spoke about a mismatched system of access that began after the Supreme court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“This is about power and control,” McGill Johnson said, referring to the efforts to restrict abortion access.

McGill Johnson lauded Lujan Grisham’s actions surrounding abortion, including the $10 million pledge.

“We have so much to be grateful for having a leader like Michelle.” McGill Johnson said.

‘We’re gonna win’

Lujan Grisham, the keynote of Saturday’s event, is seeking a second term as New Mexico’s governor. Republican Mark Ronchetti, a former television weatherman and candidate for US Senate is the challenger.

“Elections are harder and meaner and less about the truth and protecting our equality than they’ve ever been,” Lujan Grisham said. “A lot of people, even me, feel like it’s just too hard or it’s just too angry.”

Despite that feeling, Lujan Grisham told the crowd they had the power to affect change. That power would have to be utilized, she said, because outside forces were eyeing New Mexico.

“They’re coming for this state,” she said. “This is the toughest climate with the highest risk I have ever seen as a New Mexican in my entire career.”

Michelle Lujan Grisham poses with Las Cruces City Councilor Yvonne Flores after a rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights on Oct.  15, 2022, at Albert Johnson Park.

She framed that statement in the context of polls showing her leading Ronchetti ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Nevertheless, she told the crowd not to be complacent. Otherwise, the whole of democracy was at risk, she said.

“Maybe New Mexico can be the place, because of you, where we teach these positive lessons to the rest of America and make sure that she is a beacon for the rest of the world. And that this isn’t just an experiment, that this democracy and this republic is the gold standard for the rest of the world,” she said. “I believe that with every ounce of my 4’10” being.”

In a gubernatorial debate last week, Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti each talked about their stances on abortion. The incumbent repeatedly touched on her advocacy for legal access to abortion procedures. The challenger voiced support for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions, while advocating for a statewide referendum on whether to impose new restrictions.

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Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached by email at JE [email protected].

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