Instead of shying away from abortion as if it were a divisive topic that could leave candidates vulnerable, an ambitious electoral coalition in New Mexico emboldened candidates to make it a part of their platform.
Amid the flurry of attacks on abortion rights in states across the country, New Mexico’s reproductive justice movement recently won a major victory: Our legislature repealed an antiquated abortion ban that would have criminalized abortion if Roe v. Wade is gutted or overturned. This was one of the only proactive wins for reproductive health across the nation this state legislative session.
This important achievement for our state was far from guaranteed. Only a year ago, our legislature shot down the very same abortion ban repeal bill and voted to keep anti-abortion language on the books. Even though a majority of New Mexicans say they can hold their own moral views on abortion and still respect others to make their own pregnancy decisions, certain anti-abortion senators prioritized their own agenda and refused to advance the bill. In 2019, the bill failed in the Senate.
So what changed? We realized that no matter how much we campaigned and advocated for the bill, we couldn’t succeed as long as our senators refused to lead with the values of their constituents. To solve this problem, we took part in an ambitious electoral coalition to center new voices in state politics and replace out-of-touch incumbents from both parties with lawmakers who understood the needs and values of our communities.
As a coalition, we re-doubled our efforts this year to elect grassroots candidates who supported the legal right to abortion unequivocally. Instead of shying away from abortion as if it were a divisive topic that could leave our candidates vulnerable, we embraced it and emboldened our candidates to make it a part of their platform. Indeed, our bold commitment to reproductive justice gave us a powerful way to engage the families of New Mexico—in particular, our communities of color—who share the belief central to the reproductive justice framework: that all people deserve to live healthy lives with autonomy and freedom.
Together, we refused to accept the status quo that moderate incumbents offered. Inspired by women and queer people of color leaders with lived experience and deep ties to their communities, our coalition mobilized voters for an election that installed progressive champions in the New Mexico Senate—proving that our vision for a future that centers reproductive justice is a winning issue for our families.
With a new Senate in place this session, coupled with the powerful leadership and narrative-setting led by Indigenous women, Black women and queer folks of color, we have not only advanced abortion rights, but also advanced bills for paid sick leave, cannabis legalization with a racial justice expungement component, banned qualified immunity and invested in early childhood education.
Victories for this wide-ranging slate of progressive legislation would not have been possible had our coalition not centered reproductive justice in our electoral as well as policy work. Indeed, while conservatives often attempt to silo social and economic issues, our movement’s power comes from our understanding of how issues like abortion bans, economic insecurity, racial injustice and more affect and intersect with one another.
There’s a clear sign that the strategy we used is working: Our conservative opponents are trying to co-opt elements of it to mask their radical, dangerous agenda with softer-sounding language. Conservative lawmakers in New Mexico have started copying the themes we have used in our electoral and advocacy work, pushing materials branded with ‘respect New Mexico’ to try to portray a slate of anti-abortion lawmakers as moderate, reasonable and respectful, despite their extreme attacks on our communities.
Part of achieving progressive victories going forward will be exposing this hypocrisy, challenging our opponents head-on by raising the alarm about their true motives. For too long, conservatives have loudly spread misinformation, while progressives are left in a defensive position, trying to do damage control. We have an opportunity to take a bolder approach to countering opposition arguments and seizing control of the narrative around the issues we care about.
Of course, this work is easier said than done, and advocates face an uphill battle in many states where legislatures are tightly controlled by conservative majorities. Even so, there are lessons for the progressive movement to learn from our experience in New Mexico. By building diverse coalitions behind clear visions, uplifting grassroots leadership from women and queer people of color and boldly tackling the status quo, advocates in states across our country can continue to secure electoral wins and lay the groundwork for future policy victories by centering reproductive justice in electoral and policy priorities.
It will take all of us, working together, to build a future where all people have access to the resources they need to live full, healthy lives with dignity and respect.
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