Albuquerque Becomes Latest Focal Point in Abortion Wars
Anti-abortion protesters outside the Southwestern Women’s Options clinic in Albuquerque.
MARK HOLM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
By ERIK ECKHOLM
September 4, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE — At the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, three dozen people, many of them teenagers, arrived last month without warning.
Wearing T-shirts that said “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,” they demanded that the museum include an exhibit on what they called the “American genocide” of legal abortion, and fanned out to scatter cards with pictures of bloody “late-term abortion victims.”
They then moved outside to picket with a banner calling Albuquerque “America’s Auschwitz.”
Albuquerque has become the latest flash point in the abortion wars, with Operation Rescue, the militant group based in Kansas, calling it the “late-term abortion capital of the country.” This is because a private clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is one of only a few nationwide that offers abortions after the sixth month of pregnancy.
A coalition of abortion rights advocates at a rally in response to the opponents.
MARK HOLM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
Not this one….but what does it matter…to a distorter of the truth!!!
A pitched political battle is now under way. After failed attempts in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, abortion opponents have collected enough signatures to hold a referendum over whether to make Albuquerque the first city in the country to ban abortions at 20 weeks after conception, just as a dozen states have done.
Abortion rights advocates see an ominous parallel with events in Kansas in recent years. Operation Rescue moved its headquarters to Wichita, Kan., in 2003 and labeled it the late-term abortion capital to underscore the group’s campaign against a clinic there run by Dr. George R. Tiller. In May 2009, a gunman killed Dr. Tiller in the foyer of his church. Operation Rescue leaders, who had denounced violence, said they had no connection with the killer.
The drive for a city referendum has been led here by a couple who trained with Operation Rescue in Kansas and moved here three years ago as anti-abortion “missionaries.”
“We felt called to come and serve in Albuquerque,” said Tara Shaver, 29. She and her husband, Bud, moved here largely to find a way to shut down Southwestern Women’s Options, she said.
Ms. Shaver is the spokeswoman for a coalition of Roman Catholic, evangelical and other groups pushing the ballot initiative. City officials say the proposed 20-week ban is expected to be put to voters this fall.
The Shavers’ newcomer status and close ties to Operation Rescue, which is known for harassment of clinics, have become rallying points for abortion rights defenders here.
“The fact that they call themselves missionaries is really offensive,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and a leader of a coalition fighting the 20-week proposal. “We don’t need outsiders bringing in this kind of disruption.”
The Shavers arrived in Wichita in 2009 to start a year as Operation Rescue interns, living on a stipend from the group to learn its methods of documenting medical lapses at abortion clinics and offering “sidewalk counseling” to women entering clinics.
A group of young abortion opponents calling themselves the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust staged a protest last month at the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum.
MARK HOLM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
After Dr. Tiller’s murder, two of the physicians from his clinic joined the practice of Dr. Curtis Boyd at Southwestern Women’s Options here in Albuquerque. Anti-abortion groups believe that this clinic is now performing more late-term procedures than any other in the country, though no data are available.
The Shavers invited Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, a California-based group with close ties to Operation Rescue, to hold a “training camp” in Albuquerque early last month. About 30 youths, mainly from California, came.
The youths finished their sessions here with a series of aggressive public activities. In addition to the protests at the Holocaust museum, they marched outside the home of a university-based doctor who teaches abortion methods and at a birthing center he advises.
They passed out fliers with photographs of three doctors from the Southwestern clinic, labeling them “Killers Among Us.”
Some here are fighting back.“Operation Rescue Terror Tactics Not Welcome in ABQ,” read one banner at a rally held by abortion rights supporters late last month.
“Out-of-state interests have come to try to impress their beliefs on New Mexicans,” Diane Denish, a former lieutenant governor and Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, told the crowd of 250.
Mr. Shaver, 34, defended the activism by outsiders. Patients are drawn to the Albuquerque clinic from other states, he said, and “it was the national implications of late-term abortions in New Mexico that brought us here.”
“A certain amount of social tension is necessary to cause change,” he said, citing the methods of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
No polling has yet been done to indicate whether the proposed 20-week ban would pass. Albuquerque has traditionally been Democratic but has turned to the right in the last few years, electing a Republican mayor and a conservative City Council, and evangelicals have joined Catholics in opposing abortion.
Courts have blocked such bans as unconstitutional in three states, and the American Civil Liberties Union has already said that if the Albuquerque ban passes, it will quickly file a lawsuit. Dr. Boyd and other officials of Southwestern Women’s Options did not respond to requests for comment.
On a recent morning, a dozen or so abortion opponents stood outside the clinic with signs, evoking supportive honks from a few passing cars. Over two hours about a dozen women, some visibly pregnant, some with out-of-state license plates, arrived at the clinic to start what, in the later months of a pregnancy, can be a two- or three-day procedure. While some protesters waved pictures of bloody fetuses, others called out, “We’d like to help you,” and “This is not a safe place.”
Some Jewish leaders here are still angry about the Holocaust comparisons and picketing of the museum, which continued over three days. “This protest was misguided and offensive,” said Randee B. Kaiser, chairwoman of the museum’s board.
But Kristina Garza, 26, a leader of the California group, said that she considered the museum action a success, forcing Albuquerque residents to learn more about abortion practices in their city. Her group travels the country visiting high schools and colleges to enlist new abortion opponents.
“It’s quite possible we’ll return to Albuquerque this fall,” she said. She did not rule out further aggressive protests, at the museum or elsewhere.
“To deny recognition of our generation’s holocaust is discrimination,” Ms. Garza said.
Correction: September 4, 2013
A caption that appeared with an earlier version of this article misnamed, in part, a clinic in Albuquerque. It is Southwestern Women’s Options, not Southwest.
The New York Times
The underlined words in article are mine, meant to emphasize how Times distorters work….