Albuquerque residents will vote on an ordinance Tuesday that, if approved, would have a significant impact not just on reproductive rights in Albuquerque but throughout New Mexico and the Southwest.
The ordinance, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, was placed on the ballot after anti-choice activists targeted an Albuquerque clinic because it is one of only four in the United States to openly provide later abortions.
Rachael Maestas, a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at the University of New Mexico, told RH Reality Check that she was troubled when people from outside of the community began lobbying for the ordinance. “This has been seen as a threat to our city from the very beginning, and we’ve taken it very seriously since the beginning,” said Maestas. “Any restriction on abortion is still a restriction on our rights.”
In July a group calling itself Project Defending Life submitted a petition with nearly 27,000 signature to the city council, and the city clerk’s office verified the 12,091 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot. Bud and Tara Shaver, the activists behind the petition, were sent to Albuquerque in 2010 by Kansas-based Operation Rescue. Operation targeted Albuquerque after the late Dr. George Tiller’s Kansas clinic was closed following his murder by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder.
State legislators in New Mexico have generally been supportive of reproductive rights. Over the last two decades, most anti-choice legislation, including a statewide ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, has been blocked in committee. Lawmakers see the ballot initiative as a way to circumvent the legislature.
“It sets a really bad precedent,” state Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) told the Albuquerque Journal. “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.”
Because of both Texas and Arizona’s stringent regulations on abortion, women from across the Southwest travel to New Mexico to seek reproductive health care. Albuquerque is the only city in the region where women can terminate a pregnancy that is past 20 weeks’ gestation.
Julianna Koob, legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, stressed to RH Reality Check the significance of Tuesday’s vote. “Not only are they voting for women and families in Albuquerque, but for women and families in New Mexico and throughout the region,” said Koob. “We need voters to understand that.”
(The seven Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico, including the four in Albuquerque, would not be affected by the ordinance since those clinics do not provide later abortions.)
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1.5 percent of all abortions occur after 21 weeks. Koob stressed that these procedures represent much-needed health care. “[The procedures] are really very important because they are the most heartbreaking of circumstances,” said Koob. “You’re talking about women who find out they have cancer and have to terminate the pregnancy to go through treatment. You’re talking about women who don’t find out about fetal abnormalities until later in the pregnancy.”
“The immediate impact of this ordinance would be that in these rare circumstances were women need abortions later in pregnancy, they would have to put their own lives at risk,” she said. “They will be forced to carry to term a pregnancy that could end up in tragedy.”
In a video released by Respect Albuquerque Women—a coalition “dedicated to protecting a woman’s ability to make private medical decisions with her family and doctor”—a woman identified only as Christie shares the story of discovering late in her pregnancy that her fetus had not developed lungs. “We were ready to give our 2-year-old a brother or sister. And everything with the pregnancy went pretty well until we went for our 20-week ultrasound,” she says in the video. “One of the doctors said, ‘Your baby is very sick.’ I could carry the baby to term and watch her suffocate or I could end the pregnancy early and let her go peacefully.”
Young Women United was one group that joined Respect Albuquerque Women to oppose the ordinance. “When we heard about this extreme agenda that denies women the health care they need, we immediately began talking about what this meant for women and families in Albuquerque and the rest of the country,” said Young Women United Policy Director Micaela Cadena. “We felt it was really important that our campaign included and centered around the voices of New Mexico women, particularly women of color.”
“Across the country, low-income women and women of color have limited access to the range of reproductive health options all families need to be strong,” she said. “Our communities will face heavier burdens and be further criminalized while attempting to access the health care they may need,” said Esparza.
New Mexico has the second highest poverty rate in the United States. According to 2011 Census Bureau statistics, 19 percent of families in New Mexico live below the poverty level (the national average is 14.3 percent).
“We want to make sure people understand there is a difference between personal beliefs and making their own decisions about abortion,” said Cedena. “Our families deeply value that these are private decisions that should remain with women and doctors without government interference.”