In just over two weeks, Albuquerque residents will vote on a ballot measure banning abortions after 20 weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the psychological and emotional health of the mother. If passed, this would be the first ever municipal ban on abortion and could serve as a template for those looking to get around failed attempts at restricting abortion access in state legislatures.
Only about 1 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, and the vast majority of those are due to fetal abnormalities. Comprehensive fetal testing that can reveal major birth defects such as brain malformations and missing organs aren’t usually performed until just before 20 weeks into a pregnancy. For women and families facing tragic circumstances, taking away one of their last opportunities to end a non-viable pregnancy would be devastating.
Albuquerque has become the focus of many religious anti-abortion extremist groups because it is one of the few states that still offers later abortions through clinics such as Southwestern Women’s Options. The infamous anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, the same group that relocated from California to Wichita, Kans., to launch a relentless seven-year campaign targeting Dr. George Tiller and his clinic, has now set its sights on Albuquerque. The group continues to implement the tactics it used in Wichita: harassing the clinic, its staff and patients.
Also behind the Albuquerque measure, and closely affiliated with Operation Rescue, is the group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, which recently launched a protest in front of the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum. Protestors held up graphic images of fetal abortion “victims” as well as signs and banners calling Albuquerque “America’s Auschwitz” and demanding an exhibit on what they call the “American genocide”. Members of the group also protested in front of the home of a doctor who has taught abortion methods at a local university, and they passed out photographs of staffers at Albuquerque abortion clinics with the label, “Killers Among Us.”
The anti-abortion measure was pushed through the city council only after it failed in the Democratic-controlled state legislature. “Out-of-state interests [Operation Rescue and Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust] have come to try to impress their beliefs on New Mexicans,” said former New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish at an Albuquerque rally attended by more than 250 abortion-rights supporters.
Albuquerque, a traditionally liberal city, has started leaning to the right in the past few years. It currently has a Republican mayor and a conservative city council. Recent polls have suggested that the 20-week ban could pass, and one reason is the strategic placement of voting locations. In the past, student voters have been able to cast their ballots between classes on the University of New Mexico campus and at Central New Mexico Community College (CNW). However, the city council has decided to remove these polling locations, despite outrage from students and faculty. Students showed up at an October city council meeting to demand campus polling locations, but were unsuccessful.
Joel Gallegos, an Albuquerque native who attends CNW and is acampus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, feels that the decision to remove voting locations from college campuses was an attempt to disenfranchise student voters—who would be likely to oppose the anti-abortion legislation. He makes the point that the city has polling locations “at elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, but not at the schools where students are of voting age.”
Said Gallegos to the Ms. Blog,
It’s really upsetting that on one hand they tell us as young people we need to be more involved, but they take away a polling location that is easily accessible to us.
Even if the ballot measure passes, the law will most likely be challenged by a legal group such as the ACLU—with taxpayers picking up the bill. Some estimate that this legal battle could cost well over $1 million. So not only would this measure jeopardize women’s rights and force government intrusion into deeply private matters, it will also cost be a financial burden on taxpaying citizens.
Albuquerque residents can participate in early voting Oct 30-Nov 15 at select locations, and from 7 am to 7 pm on election day, November 19. To find your nearest polling place or for more information, visit www.respectabqwomen.org/vote
Map of New Mexico (with Albuquerque in red) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; photos of “Respect ABQ Women!” sign and volunteers in Albuquerque by Brooke Hofhenke.