The proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation in Albuquerque may have been soundly defeated at the ballot box, but the reverberations from that vote are being felt across the state. From proposed reforms to the petition initiative process in Albuquerque, to another potential 20-week ban in neighboring Valencia County, to a possible fight over abortion restrictions in the state legislature, the battle over reproductive rights in the Land of Enchantment is just beginning.
In Valencia County—a neighboring county of Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is situated—a ban on abortion after 20 weeks modeled after the Albuquerque ordinance is currently under consideration by
county commissioners. The ban would apply only to the unincorporated areas of the county, and would not affect the City of Belen, villages of Bosque Farms or Los Lunas, or the towns of Peralta and Rio Communities.
Anti-choice activists are claiming that the ordinance is a preventative measure. There is not a single facility that provides abortion services in the county. It was originally introduced before the Albuquerque vote, and supporters thought if the ban had passed providers might try to move into the neighboring county. The ordinance is being sponsored by Commissioner Lawrence Romero. There is a public hearing scheduled for December 20, with a vote on final passage set for January 8.
Jackie Farnsworth of the Valencia County chapter of New Mexico Right to Life was lobbying for the ordinance before the vote in Albuquerque failed. She told the Albuquerque Journal that the ordinance was meant to prepare for a possible relocation of clinics that could have occurred if the Albuquerque ordinance had passed; Valencia County is the next closest county to the Albuquerque airport. “What we were concerned about is there is a huge business in Albuquerque that people fly in, get on a shuttle to the clinic, for these procedures,” Farnsworth told the Journal.
The proposed ordinance claims that “anatomical studies” document that a fetus is able to feel pain “by 20 weeks gestation.” Another claim is that “ample medical research” shows fetuses at 20 weeks’ gestation “actually feel pain more intensely than adults.” These claims have been repeatedly disproven. The ordinance does make an exception for a “medical emergency,” but only to preserve the life of the woman. It does not include exceptions for
“psychological or emotional conditions.” The ordinance makes no exception for cases of rape or incest or viability of the fetus.
Unlike in Albuquerque, there will be no vote by the citizens of Valencia County on the ban. In Valencia County, ordinances must be introduced by a county commissioner. Romero introduced the ordinance after Farnsworth presented the board with a petition in favor of it that she claimed was signed by 1,000 residents.
The proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation was just one of three issues that Albuquerque voters went to the polls on this year. In addition to the regular election of city council members, voters also participated in special elections, including a runoff election for city council. Petition ballot initiatives also included a proposed change to the city’s minimum wage.
Petition-initiated elections require that supporters collect 20 percent of the average turnout in the last four municipal elections, which makes the current required number of signatures about 12,000. The signatures must be collected within a 60-day period to qualify for the ballot. If petitioners are successful, the city is required to hold an election within 90 days. According to the Journal, the three special elections that resulted from petitions this year have cost the city $1.2 million.
The frequency of petition-initiated elections in Albuquerque have led city leaders to consider reforms to the process. Some of these reforms include
holding petition-initiated elections during the next regular election, boosting the signature requirement, and creating a legal review committee that would examine the proposed initiatives and make recommendations about whether or not they should be allowed to move forward.
During the validation process for the proposed 20-week ban, the city council questioned City Attorney David Tourek about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance; state Attorney General Gary King called it “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Meanwhile, Councilmember Trudy Jones attempted to introduce a resolution before the special election that would have required the city to pursue legal action to determine the ordinance’s constitutionality. That measure was blocked from consideration because of parliamentary procedures.
After the electoral loss in Albuquerque, anti-choice activists may be setting their sights on the state capitol. The New Mexico legislature is controlled by Democrats, but they do not have a supermajorities in the state house or senate. Typically, abortion restrictions have died in committee before reaching the house or senate floor.
Still, during the last legislative session, a handful of bills restricting abortion rights were introduced. These included bils relating to informed consent, parental notification, and making the termination of a pregnancy that
resulted from rape legally the same as tampering with evidence from a crime. The New Mexico legislature will be called into session on January 21, and anti-choice Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will determine which topics will be on the legislative agenda. Martinez has not said publicly whether any of the items on the agenda will deal with reproductive rights.
However, the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico told the Journal that Martinez had promised the organization she would put on the agenda changes to parental notification rules for minors seeking an abortion. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) suggested that if parental notification laws were placed on the agenda that could open the door for more legislation dealing with abortion rights.
Julianna Koob, legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, told RH Reality Check that it is clear the anti-choice activists behind the 20-week ban in Albuquerque
seek not only to ban abortion later in pregnancy but to ban abortion altogether. “They have tried to change the law in the legislature for the past three or four years,” said Koob. “We have been really pleased that legislators have known that their place is not to inject themselves into those decisions.”
Koob noted that Planned Parenthood is expecting the parental notification law to be placed on the governor’s legislative agenda, and that it is a bill that has been defeated year after year. “It is a policy that is not needed, and a place where politicians have no business,” said Koob. “Most young people already let parents know before they seek an abortion, and the ones that don’t often have good reason. This includes safety concerns when domestic abuse and violence are involved.”
“The general public does not think that this is the legislators’ business,” said Koob, referencing the recent outcome in Albuquerque.
Monday is the first day during which state legislators are permitted to pre-file legislation; lawmakers can continue to do so until January 17.