NEW MEXICO – A group of 90 clergy and members of religious organizations signed off on a letter supporting women’s right to access abortion.
That letter was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for Choice and the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. It appeared as a full-page advertisement in the Journal on Tuesday — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade.
Not surprisingly, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said Wednesday that the message contained in the open letter is at odds with church teachings.
The pro-choice letter began: “We, clergy and religious leaders from across New Mexico, in accordance with our moral convictions and our personal faith, support a women’s ability to access a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion.”
The letter goes on to say that the decision to have an abortion is “deeply personal” and should be left to a woman, her family and her doctor, “in consultation with her faith,” and should not be restricted by elected officials.
During the current legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill to repeal a 1969 state law that makes it a felony for an abortion provider to terminate a pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, birth defects and serious threats to a woman’s health. The law has been unenforceable since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which affirmed a woman’s legal right to access a safe and legal abortion, and disallowed many state and federal restrictions on abortions.
With the confirmation of conservative justices to that court, many pro-choice people and organizations fear that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, leaving individual states to decide the legality of abortion. Consequently, women in New Mexico would be unable to access an abortion if the state law remains on the books.
“Any law that criminalizes doctors or patients needs to go and does not reflect the values of the people of New Mexico,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “People of faith have been supporting access to abortion and reproductive health care even before Roe v. Wade, and the conservative evangelical right does not own the moral argument on this issue.”
Specifically, the issue “is about justice, about people getting the healthcare they need and about respecting other people’s decision, however someone might personally feel about abortion,” she said.
In response to the open letter, Archbishop John C. Wester released a statement saying the three dioceses in New Mexico “adamantly uphold the Church’s historical belief in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.”
He also said that the signatories to the pro-choice letter are “not in communion with, nor sponsored by, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe or the Roman Catholic Church in New Mexico.”
He then provided a list of 19 churches and organizations that were not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and warned that attending services or receiving sacraments at those churches was not valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said “it is the position of the state’s bishops to leave the state law banning abortion on the books.”
According to retired Episcopal priest Thomas Lowe, formerly of the Alamogordo parish, and a signatory to the letter, “We sadly now exist in an environment where some of the work that has succeeded in allowing women to be more equally involved in things that take place within our society, and to be fully empowered and make decisions that affect their own lives, are being challenged with efforts to reverse those advances.”
Another letter signatory, Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Albuquerque’s Congregation Albert, said “the government has no place telling women how to treat their own bodies.” Every faith tradition has “differing feelings and thoughts” about terminating pregnancies, “but government should not be favoring one view over another.”
In the Jewish tradition, Rosenfeld said, “abortion should not be used for birth control, and the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the fetus.”