OPINION: Edgewood commissioners violate oath in anti-abortion vote

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Apr. 27—The late Jerry Springer and four Edgewood town commissioners have something in common.

They veered from municipal government to create a circus.

Springer, who died Thursday at age 79, once served as a councilman and mayor of Cincinnati. He resigned from the council after being caught in a vice sting. Supposedly a bright young politician, Springer wrote a check to a prostitute.

In an eye-popping comeback, Springer again won a seat on the Cincinnati City Council and assumed the ceremonial position of mayor in 1977.

He graduated to raunchy entertainment, hosting a weekday television show filled with adulterers and mock violence. It drew 6 million viewers at its peak.

Springer wrote a book about his transition from city government to his choreographed circus, aptly calling in Ringmaster. He gave up public service to make money in trashy television, but at least his venture was legal.

Edgewood's alleged leaders are dedicated to wasting public money with their approval this week of the anti-abortion ordinance. The measure encourages residents in the town of 6,000 to sue people who obtain abortion pills or other items used in terminating pregnancies.

It's a copycat ordinance turning up in communities where elected officials choose not to think for themselves. Abortion is legal in New Mexico. Edgewood's commissioners are aware of that fact, but they are willing to be manipulated.

All elected politicians swear to abide by the law. Edgewood's four grandstanders violated their oath.

Mayor Audrey Jaramillo and Commissioners Jerry Powers, Ken Brennan and Sterling Donner voted for the ordinance. Commissioner Filandro Anaya dissented.

"I opposed the ordinance because it's against women's rights," Anaya said by phone Thursday. Of the other commissioners he added, "They knew they were breaking the law."

Powers tried to stall or water down the proposal. When those efforts failed, he went along with the other three supporters of the unenforceable ordinance.

Neither Powers nor Donner, who sponsored the measure, returned calls seeking comment.

To try to steady their hand, opponents of abortion lean on the federal Comstock Act of 1873. The law was named for New Yorker Anthony Comstock, who crusaded against what he deemed obscene materials. His definition of verboten conduct included sending birth-control information through the mail.

"Women couldn't even vote when Comstock was passed. They didn't get that right until 1920," Anaya said.

Many Black women — and men, too — continued to be barred from voting through arcane questions posed by election officials. Those discriminatory practices persisted until the mid-1960s.

The country's powerbrokers were just as unfair to Native Americans. Natives received the right to vote in 1924, though New Mexico barred them from the polls until 1948. For many more years, Jim Crow-style barriers remained to stop Native Americans from voting.

That ugly history was just part of the reason Anaya opposed Edgewood's anti-abortion ordinance.

"It's just wrong. There's no doubt we're going to be sued over this," he said.

The Comstock Act was weakened and then rendered toothless through a series of court rulings. The long fight had a hero.

Margaret Sanger, mother of three and a nurse in Brooklyn, opened the country's first birth-control clinic in 1916. Sanger the next year served 30 days in jail for violating the Comstock Act.

Unbowed, she spent 20 years fighting to overturn or at least defang the law. Comstock was so rigid it listed as obscene the words "gonorrhea" and "syphilis." Sanger knew venereal diseases were more difficult to stave off with Comstock blunting birth control.

She founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. Her first big victory came in 1936 with a court decision authorizing physicians to mail birth-control devices and information across the country.

In a landmark ruling in 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court struck down a law that made it a crime to use birth-control devices or to advise consumers about them. Comstock ceased to be enforced.

Edgewood and other towns nonetheless are resurrecting the Comstock Act as a pretext for their anti-abortion ordinances. The Edgewood four have codified a waste of time, public money and emotion.

State lawmakers in New Mexico have authority to regulate abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

By overturning Roe, the court returned America to a patchwork of state-by-state abortion laws. Even before Roe's demise, New Mexico legislators repealed a dormant 1969 state law that criminalized abortion, making clear their stand on abortion rights.

With the exception of Anaya, Edgewood's commissioners showed no regard for their pledge to abide by the law.

They decided to run a small-town circus. No one will be entertained when the bills come due.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.