I (might) heart New Mexico

Flag-map of New Mexico
Flag-map of New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Mexico is, so far, batting 500: the good citizens of Albuquerque voted down (on November 19) a ballot measure that would have denied women the right to an abortion after 20 weeks. Now a case is underway in a New Mexico district court to establish whether a dying citizen has the right to hasten his or her death with the aid of a physician.

On the surface, the two issues might seem to have little in common — other than both being in New Mexico and involving the two primary causes with which I’ve been concerned for the past several decades. But they are at the heart of similar social justice concerns: individual autonomy, the individual woman’s right to control her own body, the individual of whatever gender, race or religion to choose a humane and compassionate death. They are opposed by the exact same groups: those who say they want “less government” — yet would involve the government in these most personal and private matters, and those who say they want religious freedom — yet would have their own religion dictate to everyone else.

Sanity prevailed in Albuquerque last month. Late term abortions are the most difficult and painful of decisions, and account for only a tiny fraction (one or two percent) of all abortions. But the people who put the issue on the ballot saw this as one more chance to chip away at the already diminishing right to a safe and legal abortion in the U.S.

One can only hope that sanity will prevail again. The end-of-life case now being argued was brought by a 49-year-old woman named Aja Riggs who has advanced uterine cancer, and two physicians who want to be able to prescribe medications – without fear of prosecution – to terminally ill patients wanting to end life on their own terms. Riggs’ cancer is currently in remission, but she has gone through aggressive treatment and extensive periods of terrible pain and suffering and says, “I don’t want to suffer needlessly at the end.”

Would any of us? Would you?

Most of us would feel that decision – what to do as we face life’s end – is one we’d prefer to make with our loved ones and our physicians and without governmental interference. Just as many of us – well reflected in the Albuquerque vote – would prefer having women make their own decisions with loved ones and physicians and without governmental interference.

Maybe reason will win again – a win for New Mexico and the rest of us.

Win some, lose some…

It’s a not-too-encouraging new twist on the old baseball adage: win some, lose some, some get rained out.

Women’s health & rights recently won one – Albuquerque –  lost one – Texas – and guess who still gets left out? The woman (and often her husband or partner) who simply wants to exercise a constitutional right to make a very personal, very private and usually very difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.

The Albuquerque issue was a blatant attempt by right-wing ideologues to circumvent the law and ban late-term abortions outright. It would have immediately affected the entire state, since the only two clinics (and specifically the openly-advertising Southwestern Women’s Options) performing the procedure are in Albuquerque. Although late-term abortions are a tiny, tiny fraction of all such procedures, they are often the most wrenching, difficult and extremely private of decisions; for now, New Mexico women at least retain the right to make such decisions when necessary — and the access needed to carry them out.

Texas women fared worse. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal to block another blatantly anti-women law passed by Texas in July, which will force the immediate closing of as many as one third of the clinics in the state offering abortions.

Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly proclaimed that this means Texas women “are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions.” Excuse me? If I could get Mr. Perry to read my own story in Perilous Times, he might know what shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions are actually like. Tragically, because they are now denied access to safe and legal procedures, Texas women without resources may be forced to turn in similar directions.

Highly trained, dedicated physicians have been available to perform abortions in Texas clinics. Whether they have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic — as is now required — has absolutely no bearing on “the safety of Texas women.” But the law now enables one harsh, strident, anti-women segment of the state to impose its will on disempowered women. All but a handful of clinics in Texas will be forced either to close or to stop offering abortions. Some Texas women will be able to travel the long distances necessary to access safe procedures but others — women without money or power, desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy that could bring lead to unbearable hardship?

They not only lost one, they are now left out. My heart aches for those women.