Rio Arriba County District 1 Commissioner James Martinez’s plan to pass an anti-abortion proclamation has caused widespread outcry in the County.
Currently the proclamation exists only in draft form and expresses support for “all human life,” according to text messages from Martinez. He said in a Feb. 26 interview he believes that life begins at conception.
“As a Christian, I believe that God has called us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves,” he said.
Despite requests, Martinez did not share the proclamation draft with the Rio Grande SUN.
Originally, he attempted to include the proclamation on the agenda for a Jan. 28 Commission meeting. County Attorney Adán Trujillo and County Manager Tomas Campos, however, ultimately decided not to include it, because of the controversial nature of its content, Campos said.
But Martinez still plans to propose the proclamation, which would have no legal power. County proclamations and resolutions are unenforceable.
“We’re in discussion now,” he said. “We have not set a time frame for when, if and when, this proclamation will be placed on a Commission meeting agenda.”
In Feb. 20 email to Campos, Martinez sounded more confident.
“I will continue to support this and with my fellow Commissioners, we will pass a Proclamation in support of all human life,” he wrote.
District 2 Commissioner Leo Jaramillo said in a Feb. 28 interview he could not say whether he would support the proclamation, as he would have to talk with his constituents first.
“I’d still take in everybody’s feedback, constituents on both sides, and hear what both sides need to say in regard to the issue, before making a determination, because I represent constituents with lots of different beliefs,” he said.
District 3 Commissioner Danny Garcia wrote in a March 2 text message that he could not comment on the matter.
After Planned Parenthood received misinformation that Martinez was attempting to pass a “resolution for the unborn” in a Feb. 25 County Commissioners meeting, the organization sent out an “action alert” to several County residents.
“Rio Arriba County Commissioner James Martinez is working to divide our community,” the alert stated. “Resolutions like this serve only to create political division in our community and potentially cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars defending this unconstitutional resolution in court.”
The alert noted that New Mexico has a shortage of rural medical providers, and that such a statement from the County, though legally unenforceable, could negatively impact existing providers.
“Resolutions like this have a chilling effect on medical providers’ ability to provide safe and legal health care,” it stated. “This resolution will make providing care confusing in these communities and make it more difficult to recruit new providers.”
No clinics in Rio Arriba provide abortions, and the nearest provider is Planned Parenthood in Santa Fe.
The alert included an email form through which recipients could contact County officials and encourage them not to pass the resolution. Dozens of citizens emailed Trujillo, Campos, Martinez, Jaramillo and Garcia.
Several expressed concern that the statement from the County would only create more challenges for women who need safe reproductive health care, and that it would increase stigma around receiving that care.
“Everyone has a reproductive health story and way too many of us face reproductive health challenges; from complications in pregnancy, to miscarriage, to infertility, to grandparents raising grandchildren and more,” wrote Northern New Mexico College Clinical Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Nursing Ana X. Gutierrez Sisneros. “The personal decision to end a pregnancy needs to remain between a woman, her family, her faith and her doctor, and not politicians.”
She wrote that a vote against the resolution would respect women and their family’s personal decision making, while a vote for the resolution would demonstrate that Commissioners do not trust women and their families to make difficult decisions on their own.
In response to one of the emails from a citizen advocating for abortion rights, Martinez wrote, “Greetings, I will continue to support, protect and value all human life, from the unborn, born, elderly and disabled. The Holy Scriptures tell us to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Thank you for expressing your concern.”
Martinez said in the Feb. 26 interview that he has heard many of his constituents express an anti-abortion stance.
“The intent of this and any Proclamation is not to create policy, cast judgment or bring division,” he wrote in a March 1 text message. “The intent is to declare support for a position that is held by many, in this Proclamation, those who value all human life.”
In January, County resident April Salazar, a self-described pro-life advocate and activist, emailed Martinez, asking him to support a separate anti-abortion resolution she submitted.
The resolution states that “each and every innocent life is unique and precious to God” and cites an abstract from the American College of Pediatricians that states life begins at conception.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed the American College of Pediatricians a fringe hate group for opposing adoption by LGBT people, linking homosexuality to pedophilia, endorsing conversion therapy for gay youth, believing transgender people to be mentally ill and characterizing transgender health care for children as child abuse, the SPLC website states.
Separation of church and state
Martinez’s plan has also raised eyebrows over what some view as an already blurry divide between church and state in the County.
Each County Commission meeting begins with a Christian prayer, and in January, the County posted a “Sunday blessing” on its Facebook, which included a passage from the Christian bible.
Campos said the Facebook post was “extreme,” and that people of all religions need to be respected and treated equally in the County, but that it is also important to recognize the County’s Catholic heritage.
Martinez said in the Feb. 26 interview that he believes the government should not interfere in religious matters, but the church can be present in government. The government should not force religion on citizens, though, Martinez said.
He said he did not believe the prayer at the beginning of the County Commission meeting limits the freedom of people of other faiths.
“If anyone at a Commission meeting is not comfortable with a Christian prayer, then they do not have to participate, or they do not have to remain in that meeting while or during the prayer,” he said.
Not everyone agrees—members of the Sikh community and the Jewish community have expressed concern about the prayer.
“It really hits me in some kind of deep place in a negative way,” said Shel Neymark, who runs the New Mexico Rural Library Initiative and is Jewish.
He said he participates in Catholic traditions in Dixon and has even carried the cross on Good Friday.
“I appreciate those traditions, but they have no place in our government, and it really makes me feel excluded,” he said. “And I haven’t wanted to address it, because I’m there asking for money for libraries. But now that this anti-abortion legislation is being put forward, I’m thinking it is time to address it.”
He said he had voiced his concerns to Martinez in the past.
He also said that many people historically in the County were Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Catholic Spain, and that recognizing only the Rio Arriba’s Catholic heritage erases that history.