As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 3, 2004
Any debate over a bill dealing with abortion gets emotional. But one state senator during this week's floor debate over Senate Bill 126 - which would require doctors to notify parents when a minor girl seeks an abortion - took the debate to a new emotional level.
Sen. Diane Snyder, R-Albuquerque, made a passionate speech against the bill - the only Senate Republican to speak in opposition. Her statement laid open many of the intense conflicts people have about the abortion issue in general and the parental notification issue in particular.
She talked about a friend who died from a "back alley" abortion in the days before Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal and safe for women.
She mocked the contention by bill supporters that the bill would bring families together. Instead, she said, it would result in confused and frightened teenage girls going to unlicensed and dangerous abortionists. Or send girls from dysfunctional families to violent confrontations by irate parents.
But then Snyder surprised - and undoubtedly disappointed - many listeners by saying she would vote for the bill. For political reasons, she admitted.
Snyder said if she voted against it, a more conservative Republican would likely defeat her in the next primary election.
But her Northeast Heights district "is a swing district; it's not hard right," she said, so a Democrat would likely triumph in the general election.
Snyder told the Senate that keeping the seat Republican was more important than her vote on the bill - which, she predicted, would die in the House as has happened in past sessions. (It's been referred to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, which earlier in the session tabled a similar House bill.)
In a literal way, her vote didn't make a difference. The bill passed the Senate 29-10. But some might argue that voting her conscience might have emboldened other senators - Republicans and Democrats - who believe the same as Snyder but voted for the bill out for political survival.
Talking to a reporter Wednesday, Snyder said there are other Republicans in the Senate who share the same conflicts about parental notification.
Snyder said the fact that she grew up in a small town - Shamrock, Texas - helped shape her view on the issue.
"Back then (if a young woman got pregnant out of wedlock), she'd either just 'go away for a visit' or go to a back-alley abortionist," Snyder said.
While SB 126 has provisions for a pregnant teenager to get a court order to bypass parental notification, Snyder said that would never work with small-town girls. "In a small town, girls would never go to the courthouse to talk to a judge about this," she said. "It would be on the front page of the paper. Everyone in the world would know."
"Families that have good relations don't need this bill," Snyder said. "Families who don't would be hurt by it."
Snyder said so far there have been no repercussions from the GOP regarding her speech.
More moral issues: On another emotional issue debated in the Legislature this week, five House Republicans broke ranks with the majority of GOP lawmakers and voted to pass House Bill 576, which would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole.
The five are W.C. "Dub" Williams of Glencoe, Brian Moore of Clayton, and Teresa Zanetti, Larry Larranaga and Justine Fox-Young, all of Albuquerque.
All but Fox-Young signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, introduced by Rep. Gail Beam, D-Albquerque. Williams and Zanetti have been co-sponsors of anti-death penalty bills in previous sessions.
Moore was the only Republican to speak on the bill during the House floor debate. He said his main concern was the possibility of executing an innocent person. "Death is so final," he said. "I just don't see having a death penalty."
Larranaga told a reporter Wednesday that he has always opposed capital punishment and that he sees his position as consistent with his anti-abortion philosophy. "I'm pro-life from conception to natural death," he said.
Fox-Young said she supported the bill because it provides life in prison without parole for those convicted of some murders. She declined to discuss her opinion on capital punishment itself.
Moore, Larranaga and Fox-Young all said they hadn't received any significant backlash from their party or constituents over their votes.
So far no Republican senator has publicly expressed support of the bill, which will be heard in the Senate Rules Committee.
"We're working on it," one lobbyist for the bill said.
"I've talked to some (GOP) senators about it who are thinking about it," Larranaga said.
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