Democrats rally in Las Cruces on abortion access amid counter-protest

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LAS CRUCES — This election is about the right to vote and access to abortion — not just the candidates. That’s the message Democrats hoped to convey to a crowd of cheering supporters at a rally in Las Cruces on Saturday.

Councilwoman Johanna Bencomo led a speaker list that included former councilman and current U.S. Congressional District 2 candidate Gabe Vasquez, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America Mini Timmaraju and Governor. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

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

Counter-protesters carrying anti-abortion signs and iconography also attended the rally. About 100 people walked the perimeter of Albert Johnson Park holding signs and crosses. They stopped periodically to pray.

Attendees of a counter-protest at a rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights register and collect signs on October 15, 2022. Counter-protesters gathered in a corner of Albert Johnson Park.

The two groups did not mix and no violence took place during the event. However, dozens of police officers controlled the park, and a New Mexico State Police tactical team moved into a nearby parking lot. Bencomo also started the speakers list by asking the abortion rights crowd to refrain from engaging counter-protesters.

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

Democrats speak out on abortion access and vote

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 are going through a very difficult time in our country, where we have seen that this extreme Supreme Court appointed by Trump has overturned women’s rights to health care and brought us back to the stone age of politics. American,” Vasquez told the crowd. “We need to make sure that we elect a Congress and we elect a Senate that will be able to codify Roe v. Wade into law within the next two years.”

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

For the conservative majority of the court, Judge Samuel Alito wrote: “To perform an abortion is not a fundamental constitutional right because such a right has no basis in the text of the Constitution or in the history of our nation”.

Gabe Vasquez, candidate for U.S. Congressional District 2, addresses the crowd at a rally to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights on October 15, 2022.

The move sparked a series of laws in Republican-led states to ban abortion, Texas being one of them. This has placed border states like New Mexico in the crosshairs of those seeking to protect and expand abortion rights and those seeking to revoke them.

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

Vasquez and the other speakers seemed to have that priority on Saturday morning.

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

Toulouse Oliver, Secretary of State for New Mexico, then spoke. Toulouse Oliver spoke about his personal experience regarding abortion. She said she got pregnant unexpectedly when she was 21.

“I had to make this really tough choice,” she said. “I was looking at my whole future and thinking, god, you know, if I have a kid right now, all my plans for my future could go completely off the rails.”

She said she had decided to go through with the pregnancy – but stressed that she was happy the choice remained hers.

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

Toulouse Oliver also spoke about the elections. She said if Democrats don’t go to the polls midterm, they’ll lose the right to vote.

Toulouse Oliver faces Republican challenger Audrey Trujillo, who has called the 2020 presidential election a coup and promoted bogus theories about election rigging and tabulation machine hacking.

The gathering of spectators to promote Democratic candidates and abortion rights topped 100 on October 15, 2022 at Albert Johnson Park.

McGill Johnson and Timmaraju — both from out of state — spoke of an inconsistent access system that began after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“It’s about power and control,” said McGill Johnson, referring to efforts to restrict access to abortion.

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

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

“We will win”

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

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

Despite this sentiment, Lujan Grisham told the crowd they had the power to affect change. That power should be used, she said, because outside forces were watching New Mexico.

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

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

She made the statement against the backdrop of polls showing she was leading Ronchetti ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Nonetheless, she told the crowd not to be complacent. Otherwise, the whole democracy is in danger, she said.

“Perhaps New Mexico can be the place, thanks to you, where we teach these positive lessons to the rest of America and ensure that it is a beacon for the rest of the world. is not 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. “

During a gubernatorial debate last week, Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti each spoke about their positions on abortion. The licensee has repeatedly spoken about her advocacy for legal access to abortion procedures. The challenger expressed support for banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions, while advocating for a statewide referendum on whether to impose further 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 JEGarcia@lcsun-news.com.

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