4 Investigates Fact Check: The truth on abortion stances

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The latest 4 Investigates fact check examines where both candidates for governor stand on abortion and whether they’re disclosing everything about their plans.

Mark Ronchetti’s latest ad, “You Deserve the Truth”, is a response to another ad by a group called A Stronger New Mexico. It attacked Ronchetti, saying his 2020 U.S. Senate campaign view on the issue was that abortion should be banned outright. A Stronger New Mexico has strong ties to the Democratic Governors Association.

“You deserve to know where candidates stand,” says Ronchetti. The ad’s visuals are sparse, with a “false” stamp over the A Stronger New Mexico ad and a few bullet points about his plans and his view of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stance on abortion.

“The governor supports abortion up to birth,” Ronchetti says. “That’s extreme. I’m personally pro-life, but I believe we can all come together on a policy that reflects our shared values.”

The on-screen graphics say first that the governor supports abortion “up to moment of birth” and that she made New Mexico the “late-term abortion capital of U.S.” They go on to say Ronchetti proposes banning abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape, incest, and to preserve the life of the mother.

“We can end late-term abortion while protecting access to contraception and health care,” he says.

The phrase “late-term” is not a medical designation. The CDC and New Mexico’s latest category for abortions is 21 weeks. Typical gestation for women is 40 weeks.

“People cannot opt for an abortion instead of child birth when they are full term,” Laurie Sobel of the Kaiser Family Foundation told Politifact in a recent abortion fact check.

Numbers from the CDC and New Mexico Department of Health show abortions after 21 weeks account for 1 to 2% of such procedures. Reported data in 2019 differs for New Mexico when considering both sources. The CDC data — which puts New Mexico’s percentage at 11.6 — does not include about 12% of the abortions in New Mexico. It’s difficult to definitively account for the discrepancy. New Mexico’s numbers only include New Mexico residents receiving an abortion in the state, so it’s possible the difference could be due to women from other states coming to New Mexico to have an abortion. 4 Investigates highlighted the trend recently, and national news coverage has echoed what abortion providers told KOB 4.

Data from 2019 shows New York City had 2.5 times the number of abortions after 21 weeks that New Mexico had, however, making dubious Ronchetti’s claim that the state is the “late-term abortion capital of the U.S.”

A Pastor’s Claim

In fact-checking Ronchetti’s ad about his stance on abortion, 4 Investigates looked at the July 10 sermon of Legacy Church pastor Steve Smothermon. The influential conservative leads a large congregation at an ecumenical church that has six campuses in Albuquerque and beyond. An outspoken critic of Gov. Lujan Grisham — whom he called “demonic” in the same sermon — Smothermon spoke about his frustration with Ronchetti’s professed plan for abortion.

“And I know a lot of us got mad and I did, too. I had a long talk with him for hours,” Smothermon said. “And I said, ‘Dude, right out of the gate, you blew it.’ And he said, ‘Well here’s what I was trying to do…’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know what you were trying to do, but you didn’t do it.’ And here’s what he said. He said, ‘Listen, I just want to start with getting rid of partial-birth abortion in the whole state.’”

Smothermon said the congregation should be happy with that part.

He continued, “And he said, ‘But I can’t just go in and do it 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. Just so you know. You say how do I know that? Because I talked to him for hours.”

Ronchetti’s campaign said Smothermon was wrong.

“Mark told Pastor Smothermon exactly what he has told everyone else in this race, including KOB-TV,” said spokesman Enrique Knell. “Mark wants to end late-term abortion by limiting abortion to 15 weeks and in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother. His position is clear and consistent.

“As for Pastor Smothermon’s statement, you will have to ask him — that’s not what Mark told him,” said Knell.

Legacy Church did not provide further comment from Smothermon on Thursday.

Lujan Grisham’s view

Kendall Witmer, a spokeswoman for Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign, said the governor has consistently supported the right to choose an abortion. Last month, the governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to refuse to cooperate with other states seeking to prosecute women coming to New Mexico to seek an abortion.

As for abortions after 21 weeks, Witmer cited their relative rarity and said the governor believes such procedures should be a choice between a woman and her doctor.

“These are women who have carried their baby for months, who have decorated a nursery, who have had their baby shower, who have imagined an entire future for their child – and then there’s a horrific discovery,” Witmer said. “That’s when a family, a mother, needs to make a heartbreaking decision – the worst kind of decision – with her doctor. Gov. Lujan Grisham doesn’t think any individual or any government should step in and tell this family how to make that decision. And absolutely no government should then punish that mother and send her doctor to jail for seeking that lifesaving, tragic, very personal care.”