Ronchetti proposes constitutional amendment on abortion

·5 min read

Sep. 15—Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, who is lagging behind incumbent Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in polling, on Thursday called for letting voters decide directly on abortion rights in New Mexico.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion has become one of the top issues in the hotly contested governor's race as Lujan Grisham, a staunch abortion rights supporter, continues to make her stance a key part of her campaign message.

"We must ensure reproductive healthcare is kept out of the hands of an extremist like @MarkRonchettiNM," Lujan Grisham tweeted in a fundraising appeal this week.

Ronchetti, who has described himself as "staunchly pro-life" but said he would seek a "middle ground" with the Legislature to end abortion later in pregnancy, released a new television ad Thursday addressing the issue.

The ad begins with Ronchetti's wife, Krysty, saying voters "deserve to know the truth where Mark stands on women's issues.

"He's a husband and a father of two girls," Krysty Ronchetti says in the ad.

"On abortion, I've made my position clear: end late-term abortion and protect access to healthcare," Mark Ronchetti says in the ad.

The "governor has a position, too: abortion up to birth, no limits," says Ronchetti, who has called Lujan Grisham's stance on abortion "extreme."

Exactly what voters would be asked to decide is unclear.

"The language will be determined through the legislative process the same way it is for every constitutional amendment, such as the early childhood amendment, etc.," Ryan Sabel, Ronchetti's campaign communications director, wrote in an email.

Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office, said the Legislature would have to pass a constitutional amendment on abortion for it to appear on the ballot.

"There's no [statewide] citizen referendum process in New Mexico," he said. "In this case, if [Mark] Ronchetti is hypothetically elected governor [and] wants to back some kind of constitutional amendment during the next legislative session [and the question is approved by the Legislature], then it would show up on the next general election ballot."

Delaney Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham's reelection campaign, said in a statement that "abortion is already on the ballot in November," a reference to the gubernatorial candidates' stances on the issue.

"Ronchetti can release plan after plan to ban abortion if he wants, but New Mexico voters know he stands opposed to abortion 'at all stages,'" she said. "And they know that Governor Lujan Grisham stands for the complete opposite: protecting New Mexico women and their right to make their own healthcare decisions."

Recent polling has shown New Mexicans to be divided on abortion; while more think it should be legal than illegal, a significant number of New Mexicans also favor restrictions on abortion. An Albuquerque Journal poll conducted in August found 35 percent of New Mexicans think abortion should always be legal; 22 percent think it should be legal "with some limitations;" 25 percent think it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life; and 12 percent think abortion should always be illegal. Support for legal abortion was highest in the Las Cruces area and southwestern New Mexico, while support for banning abortion was highest in eastern New Mexico.

Similarly, a Public Policy Polling poll commissioned by NM Political Report in June found 30 percent support for abortion always being legal; 25 percent for legal with limitations; 29 percent for banning abortion with exceptions for rape, incest or to save the mother's life and 12 percent support for banning abortion completely.

Public Policy Polling's poll found women and Hispanics to be very pro-abortion rights, while men and whites were more evenly split. The Journal poll didn't find major differences based on ethnicity or sex, although it did find Democrats were much more likely to believe abortion should be legal while Republicans were much more supportive of restricting abortion.

Until recently, Ronchetti described himself on his gubernatorial website as "strongly pro-life" and said he would "champion religious freedoms and the Right to Life." The website now states Mark Ronchetti is "pro-life, but as governor he will seek a middle ground with our legislature that ends the practice of late-term abortion."

Ronchetti's more moderate stance on abortion — his website says he believes abortion should be legal for the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and in cases of pregnancies involving rape, incest and when a mother's life is at risk — came into question in July when the pastor of an Albuquerque megachurch told his congregation the gubernatorial candidate had different plans in mind.

The Rev. Steven Smothermon of Legacy Church said he had a long talk with Mark Ronchetti on the issue.

"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.

After the pastor's recorded remarks were widely reported, Ronchetti's campaign spokesman said the candidate's position has been clear and consistent.

"He wants to end late-term abortion in New Mexico by limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks," Enrique Knell said in a statement at the time.

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

In a news release, the Democratic Party of New Mexico called Ronchetti's new TV ad on abortion "his latest flailing attempt to redefine how he's going to try to ban abortion in New Mexico.

"No matter how many times he rewrites his website, Mark Ronchetti's plan to ban abortion is clear," Daniel Garcia, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Thursday afternoon, Lujan Grisham tweeted directly at her Republican rival.

"It's as if you don't quite get it," the tweet states. "We're not interested in lies. We're not interested in extremism. We're not interested in a war on women. Stop repackaging your abortion ban."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.