New Mexico’s abortion ban law overturned thanks to activism by indigenous women

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When Terrelene Massey watched New Mexico’s bill repealing the state ban on abortion who died in State House in 2019, she was struck by what she calls a “convenient argument” made by some lawmakers: that they could not vote for the bill because their indigenous and indigenous constituents were opposed it. These lawmakers – mostly non-Indigenous – said the cultural practices and spiritual beliefs of their constituents were at odds with the pro-abortion measure.

Massey, the executive director of the Southwestern Women’s Law Center, I knew this couldn’t be true. From her own experience as a Navajo woman and her professional experiences as an advocate for indigenous women in the Southwest, she had seen with her own eyes how her peers valued the sovereignty of the body as part of their spiritual traditions, and how the indigenous peoples of the region had long-standing ancestral practices for providing abortion care.

“Maybe it’s because I’m Native American, I’m more in tune with what’s missing when we’re not at the table and people are trying to make our voices heard – and fill that space with. inaccuracies and myths, ”said Massey, who had advocated for passage of the 2019 bill, said Bustle.

The state’s abortion ban was first passed in 1969, four years before Roe v. Wade does not make it inapplicable. Abortion continues to be the law of the land, and New Mexico does not have any of the major types of legal restrictions on abortion care found in many other states. But to have this ban on the books would be automatically criminalize abortion in the state if Roe was canceled – a growing possibility in 2021, with a conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court. Twenty-eight states and two U.S. territories have similar measurements.

New Mexico has a population of 2 million, half of whom are women and 11% of whom identify as indigenous. Massey felt that if only these lawmakers could see hard data about Indigenous women’s feelings about abortion, the bill might have a better chance of being passed if brought to the public eye. new.

“For indigenous women, reproductive rights are a way of life. “

Work with Moving forward together, Bold futures, Family planning in New Mexico, and the New Mexico ACLU, Massey launched the very first investigates what indigenous and indigenous women in New Mexico thought about reproductive rights in 2020. They interviewed more than 300 Native American adults in New Mexico over the course of two weeks, both by phone and online; To the knowledge of the groups, this is the largest sample of this population ever collected for a survey on this subject. They found that 89% of those polled believe Native American women “deserve” to make their own health care decisions, including contraceptive and abortion care, without government interference. Almost three-quarters believe they can have their own “moral opinion on abortion” and continue to trust patients and families to make health care decisions for themselves. One in three Indigenous women reported having sought abortion care themselves, a figure from one in four women above the national average.

“The survey showed that Native Americans want to choose for themselves what happens to them, their bodies, when they want to be pregnant,” Massey said.

In 2021, the SB10 bill is put to the vote again, co-sponsored by State Representative Georgene Louis, member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe. “People have perceptions of Indigenous women that don’t reflect our real beliefs,” Louis, who also co-sponsored the bill in 2019, told Bustle. “But when indigenous women see people who look like them stand up and say, ‘These are very personal issues specific to a woman’s health that she has to decide for herself because these are the values ​​we hold dear. It encourages other women to say where they stand.

Zoom’s rise to power during the pandemic has been critical in enabling Indigenous women across the country to have their voices heard. Because hearings and committee sessions were held online, Indigenous and Indigenous women were able to not only ‘attend’ from the comfort of their own homes, but also offer their own expert testimony, explains Nicole Martin, l ” one of the co-founders of Indigenous women on the rise, an organization that advocates for the rights of Aboriginals and Aboriginals to health care.

Martin, who identifies as Navajo, Laguna Pueblo, Chiricahua Apache, and Zuni Pueblo, explains that due to the Zoom format, New Mexican lawmakers had to “sit down with these personal and vulnerable stories” in a way the legislative process rarely allows. With everyone connected through their screens, the stories shared seemed all the more intimate and close to home in a way that committee hearings at the New Mexico Roundhouse, or the State Capitol, typically weren’t. not. She was one of more than 100 women who testified in support of the bill in January and February.

“Maybe it’s because I’m Native American, I’m more in tune with what’s missing when we’re not at the table and people are trying to make our voices heard.”

“Health is our wealth in our culture. And if you’re not healthy enough to take care of another living being, you shouldn’t be forced or ashamed to give birth to that life you can’t care about, ”says Martin.

Christian Redbird, who is affiliated with the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa tribes, also shared his experiences virtually. “Our culture says that not only will this mean to me, but if I have children, what would I want their access to health care to look like? she said to Bustle, referring to how her legacy informs her thinking about all public policy. Regarding access to abortion, “I knew I wanted it to be free of shame, stigma or barriers”.

“For Indigenous women, reproductive rights are a way of life,” says Krystal Curley, Executive Director of Indigenous ways of life, an organization for the defense and support of social justice, which identifies itself as Diné. “Every decision a woman has about her reproductive health is available to us in the natural world. For us, it’s a natural decision, ”she said, referring to abortion care.

Massey, Louis, Martin and others attribute this wave of support, along with hard data, to the bill’s successful passage – and repeal of the ban – in late February. The bill was finally passed 40-30 at home and 25-17 in the Senate. It was signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on February 26. “A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body,” she said in a statement. “Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity or criminalize femininity is engaging in dehumanization. New Mexico is not in this business – not anymore.

Louis says she and other state lawmakers are discussing how to continue Zoom hearings after the pandemic, due to how she included Indigenous voices in the conversation. “Native women in New Mexico really came out and advocated for SB10 to pass – and now people are listening.”

Changing the discourse on abortion rights in New Mexico is a start, but advocates say there’s a lot more work to be done. “In my culture, we are a matriarchal society. Our grandmothers and mothers, we take their words for gold, ”says Curley. “For them to have suffered so much trauma,” she adds, referring to the practice of the Indian health service of forcibly sterilizing Indigenous women or using them in contraceptive studies, “and we’re still here today… and have our voices at the table, that’s historic.”

Curley points out that climate change is another area where indigenous peoples’ voices have been left out of policy making, and where she hopes there can be a similar impact. “Look at what happens when organizations of people of color led by women are involved in policy making,” she says. “That’s why we have to publish our stories. “

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