November 18, 2013 — Albuquerque, N.M., residents on Tuesday will determine whether the city will become the first municipality in the nation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Los Angeles Times reports (Carcamo, Los Angeles Times, 11/16). As of Friday, more than 35,000 people had cast their ballots as part of early voting and both sides predict the final tally will be close (Wyler, Time, 11/18).
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman's life is in immediate danger. According to MSNBC, about a dozen states have passed similar legislation (Carmon, MSNBC, 11/15).
The initiative was put up for a special election after antiabortion-rights activists gathered enough signatures to propose a city referendum on the measure, which failed to pass the state Legislature (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/18). If approved, it could take effect "days after city officials certify the election," the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 11/16).
Local Debate Spurs National Interest, Has National Repercussions
According to Time, the local issue has morphed into a million-dollar campaign, with at least six antiabortion-rights groups pouring funds into the election.
For example, the Susan B. Anthony List spent $176,000 on the campaign during six weeks leading up to the vote. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and a coalition of other abortion-rights groups have coalesced under the banner "Respect ABQ Women" to counter the ban, raising more than $68,000 to try to defeat the ordinance.
Micaela Cadena -- policy director for one of the Respect ABQ Women groups, Young Women United -- said the vote carries "a lot of responsibility." She said, "Not only are we voting for our own lives and families, we're voting for residents from across the state who come to the city for care. But also across the country as well, it's important that we show the opposition here and now."
Patrick Davis, director of ProgressNow New Mexico, said the election represents a "new strategy -- no one has ever tried this at a municipal level." He added, "If it fails, other places will still have a model for how this works. No matter what happens, they will have a better strategy going out of this" (Time, 11/18).
Lawmakers Divided Over Special Election Tactics
According to the Albuquerque Journal, politicians disagree over whether placing the matter up for a city vote is a legitimate tactic to enact the ban. For 20 years, statewide bills attempting to limit access to abortion "were regularly killed in legislative committees, pre-empting debate on the issue on the state House or Senate floors," the Journal reports.
State Sen. Bill Sharer (R) said the ballot initiative is "100 percent responsible." He explained, "A relatively small group of people in Albuquerque clearly made the decision that the Legislature's absolute refusal to protect human beings was unacceptable and we will find another way to do it ... I think they viewed all of us as failures and decided they were going to do it themselves."
State Sen. Cisco McSorley (D) disagreed, saying, "Over and over and over again, you have legislators vote pro-choice, and over and over and over again they're re-elected, and for the most part re-elected overwhelmingly." He added, "It's only in these special elections with low information that they (anti-abortion advocates) think they can win."
McSorley also said putting up the issue as a referendum could set a "really bad precedent." He explained, "The people that vote for this have got to understand that if this is the way things are going to be done by special interests in the future, we are opening the floodgates to every special interest in the country to come in here and write things into our City Charter that will make it impossible to govern Albuquerque" (Monteleone, Albuquerque Journal, 11/17).
Passage Likely To Spur Legal Challenges
State Attorney General Gary King (D) and other opponents of the measure have vowed to challenge the ban in court if it is passed by the city.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque City Council member Dan Lewis said that if the measure passes and is challenged in court, the city will be obligated to defend it.
Opponents Comment on Cost, Ballot Comprehension
Council member Trudy Jones, who has questioned the measure's constitutionality, said the issue should not be debated at the city level. She added that the election will cost the city at least $500,000, and any potential legal defense would be triple that amount. "We could feed a lot of babies for [a] million and a half dollars," she said (Los Angeles Times, 11/16).
Meanwhile, Julianna Koob of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and the Respect for ABQ Women Campaign said the ballot initiative -- which contains 1,293 words and no questions -- "is so misleading that we are having to tell people who are longtime advocates for women's rights to abortion to vote against" it (MSNBC, 11/18).
Piecemeal Approach to Abortion Legislation 'Does Not Make Sense,' Editorial Argues
The "fatal technical flaw" in the Albuquerque abortion initiative is that "[a]ttempting to deal piecemeal" with issues best resolved at the "state or national levels" simply "does not make sense," an Albuquerque Journal editorial argues. The editorial points out that if the law is passed, doctors forbidden to practice under the ordinance "could simply pack up, move a few miles away [from] the county and reopen shop."
"So rather than addressing in a meaningful way the question of at what point a developing fetus should be accorded legal consideration that should be weighed against a woman's right to control her own body, the practical impact of Tuesday's election is reduced to making a statement," the editorial adds, recommending that for that reason readers should vote against the measure (Albuquerque Journal, 11/17).