In a week and a day, voters in Albuquerque, N.M., may succeed where Congress is stalled: They could ban abortions at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Last week, a measure to ban the practice was introduced in the Senate after a similar bill passed the House in June. But even the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), doesn’t expect it to garner enough votes to pass. Its fate may be at best uncertain and at worst doomed federally, but voters in Albuquerque will have a chance to weigh in on what could be the nation’s first such ban at the city level next Tuesday. And proponents see it as part of a new strategy that involves pushing abortion restrictions at the local — rather than state or federal — level.
“Sometime in the state houses we’re not getting what we want,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a pro-life group that has assisted local efforts in Albuquerque. “But on a more local level, people are more concerned about their problems in a city than they are in the state legislature. … We’ve always been innovative in trying new strategies.”
Opponents say the ordinance amounts to a statewide ban, anyway, because the only New Mexico clinics that offer abortion at or after 20 weeks are in that city. Even then, just two clinics offer the procedures, which pro-choice advocates say is relatively rare. Critics have also assailed the measure as confusing, a fact supported by a recent local report. City Clerk Amy Bailey reported receiving an “unbelievable” number of calls about the measurer’s wording in a Friday Albuquerque Journal report. The entirety of the ordinance — roughly 1,250 words of legislative language — appears on the ballot, which asks voters to mark whether they are for or against the measure without providing a summary.
“Our time now is really being spent getting accurate information to voters,” says Julianna Koob, legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood New Mexico.
Critics also note that the ordinance lacks typical exceptions for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, which Newman supports. “You don’t punish a human being for the crime of its parents,” he says. “If you rob a bank, I don’t throw your kids in jail.”
But even where an exception is made — in cases where a mother’s life is in danger — local pro-choice activists say the legislative language is too vague.
“It’s so narrow in practice that it’s basically meaningless,” says Micaela Cadena, a policy director with Young Women United, a New Mexico community organizing project for women of color. Her organization has joined with Koob’s and others to fight the measure under an umbrella organization called Respect ABQ Women.
An early September Albuquerque Journal poll found support for the measure outweighed opposition by 54 percent to 39 percent.