Conservative pastor knocks Ronchetti on abortion, moderate stance

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Jul. 16—The pastor of an Albuquerque megachurch described Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti's new, more moderate stance on abortion — approving of the procedure for up to 15 weeks of pregnancy and in cases involving rape, incest and when a mother's life is at risk — as a ruse to get elected.

During his Sunday sermon, the Rev. Steven Smothermon of Legacy Church said he and a lot of others became upset when Ronchetti called his abortion stance a "very reasonable position" that most New Mexicans would support.

Smothermon said he had a long talk with Ronchetti and told him he "blew it" right out of the gate.

"He said, 'Listen, I just want to start with getting rid of partial birth abortion in the whole state,' which we should be happy with," the conservative pastor told his congregation.

"And he said, 'But I can't just go in and do it all 100 percent because we won't ever get elected.' He said, 'I just want to start,' but his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico," the pastor said, generating applause from his congregants.

Smothermon, who is hosting a large, three-day conference, could not be reached for comment Friday.

In a statement, he tried to backtrack his remarks, which the campaign of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat seeking reelection, quickly seized upon to call Ronchetti a liar who is trying to trick voters to get elected.

"Mark was clear with me that he is personally pro-life and what he intends to do as governor, which is identical to what he says in his campaign commercial," Smothermon said.

"My comments were not intended to convey his strategy as governor," he added. "I believe Mark is committed to ending the terrible practice of late-term abortion in our state, a practice that the current governor sadly embraces."

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Ronchetti's campaign, did not respond to a request for an interview with Ronchetti.

Knell said in a statement Ronchetti told Smothermon "exactly what he has told everyone else" on the campaign trail.

"He wants to end late-term abortion in New Mexico by limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks," the statement said. "His position has been clear and consistent."

The pastor "is free to express his position on these issues," Knell added.

He also took a jab at Lujan Grisham, calling her an extremist who is "pushing abortion up to the moment of birth."

Lujan Grisham told CNN recently New Mexico doesn't have any restrictions on abortion, which she supports.

There are no restrictions, she told CNN's Jake Tapper, because "this is a privacy right and a personal decision between a woman and her doctor, and to interfere in any of these medical decisions creates ... unknown, untold reductions in civil liberties for any number of individuals, including women's access to contraceptives."

Smothermon, whose church was fined by the state for violating public health orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, called Lujan Grisham "the wicked witch of the north" during his sermon.

Kendall Witmer, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham's campaign, called Ronchetti "dangerous for women who depend on abortion health care" in the state.

"The rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies in New Mexico depends on reelecting Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham," she said in a statement.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico and prominent Democrats blasted Ronchetti after news of the pastor's sermon was first reported.

Ronchetti "claims that he is willing to compromise but as we see here, he is only willing to play politics to get elected," Sen. Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque, posted on Twitter. "According to the pastor, Ronchetti wants a ban in our state but knows he will not get elected if he runs on this policy."

Pope used the hashtag #RonchettiWrongforNM.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.