November 20, 2013 — Albuquerque, N.M., residents on Tuesday voted 55% to 45% to reject a municipal ballot measure that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the AP/USA Today reports.
The proposal was the first city-level vote on such a ban, according to activists on both sides (AP/USA Today, 11/20). Several states have enacted similar laws, and courts have blocked three of them in Arizona, Georgia and Idaho (Santos, New York Times, 11/20).
In addition, federal legislation that aims to ban abortion after 20 weeks passed this year in the House and has been introduced in the Senate (Chokshi, "GovBeat," Washington Post, 11/20). The measures are based on the scientifically disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain at about 18 weeks to 20 weeks after conception (New York Times, 11/20).
If approved, the Albuquerque ballot measure would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks in the city unless the woman's life was in immediate danger. 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, 11/18).
According to the New York Times, the ban would have had an impact beyond the city itself because the only clinics in New Mexico that perform abortions after 20 weeks are located in Albuquerque. One of the city's clinics is among a handful nationwide that publicly acknowledges providing abortions at that stage of pregnancy.
The vote also tested conservative religious groups' strategy of bringing the fight over abortion rights to the municipal level (New York Times, 11/20). Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the results should not discourage antiabortion-rights activists. He said working to enact municipal-level restrictions is "a brilliant strategy" and that advocates "will see to it that this effort is introduced in other cities and states."
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said, "We hope today's resounding defeat of this abortion ban sends a clear message to the extreme forces around the country now trying to impose their agenda on cities around this country" (AP/USA Today, 11/20).
The measure garnered record voter turnout in the city, exceeding last month's mayoral election by 17,000 votes, according to the city clerk's office (New York Times, 11/20). In total, nearly 87,000 votes were cast ("GovBeat," Washington Post, 11/20).
Groups on both sides of the debate mounted aggressive campaigns to drive voter turnout and educate people about the issues (AP/USA Today, 11/20). In total, national groups like Susan B. Anthony List and Planned Parenthood spent about $1 million on the election, including television ads and ground operations.
With Hispanics comprising almost half of the city's population, political strategists also saw the election as an opportunity to gauge where the demographic stands on the issue. According to the Times, organizers worked hard to get Hispanics to vote in the election, which they hoped would signal if there is truth behind the longstanding belief that the demographic is conservative on social issues (New York Times, 11/20).