Albuquerque Voters To Decide Fate Of Proposed Abortion Ban

Oct 10, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - At about 12:30 in the morning, Barbara Bacon starts her car. She's heading downtown, to Albuquerque's Greyhound bus terminal.

"The people I'm picking up tonight are coming from Louisiana, by bus. It's a woman coming with her young daughter." Bacon said.

She explains that the women have traveled to Albuquerque for an abortion procedure. But that's about all she knows.

"They just basically tell us the name and when to pick them up and that's about it. And I don't ask questions. I'm here to be a friendly face," Bacon said.

Bacon is one of about 10 volunteers who regularly offer a spot in their cars and often times a bed in their house to women who have traveled long distances to make it to Albuquerque for an abortion.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade made abortions legal nationwide, but depending on what state you're in, the restrictions on when and how women can access the procedure vary.

Elizabeth Nash is with the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates for women's reproductive rights through research and policy analysis. She says it's hard to find access to late-term abortion care in most states. And those that are seeking the procedure often have to cross several state lines.

For example, in Albuquerque, the Southwestern Women's Options clinic employs two of just four doctors in the nation who provide abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy.

Nash says while many states are beginning to pass new laws restricting access to abortion, New Mexico, has yet to do so.

"New Mexico in general has been very supportive of abortion rights similar to places like New York, Vermont or California for example," Nash said.

But that might change soon. Albuquerque's ballot initiative would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It would also make it illegal for doctors to induce labor early if it would threaten the life of the fetus. There is an exception if the mother is in grave danger.

Tara Shaver is the spokeswoman for the anti-abortion rights group, Project Defending Life, one of the organizations sponsoring the legislation. She says after multiple efforts failed to pass in the state legislature, "We thought well, let's see what we can do in the city. And this is fitting because we do have a late term abortion clinic here"

Shaver and others got the idea for the ban after learning that a provision in the city charter would allow them to put the issue in front of voters, provided they could gather about 12,000 signatures.

Recent polls show the initiative may have enough support to pass. According to the Albuquerque Journal, about 54 percent of city voters support the ban.

And, of course, in a debate like this, there are vocal critics. Julianna Koob is with Planned Parenthood of New Mexico.

"We have a clear culture of making these decisions for our own families, guided by our own faith." Koob said. "We do not need the government making these deeply personal decisions for us."

If the ordinance passes, organizations like the ACLU are promising that it will be challenged in court immediately.

The legality of late term abortion is proving to be a divisive issue here in Albuquerque. On Wednesday, the state's attorney general said the proposed ordinance would be unconstitutional and unenforceable. Local anti-abortion rights groups disagree, saying while they'd like to see abortion banned altogether, a citywide ban on procedures later in pregnancy is a good start.

The election is just over a month away. It promises to be a contentious fight until then.

EDITOR'S NOTE: KUNM collaborated with the Santa Fe Reporter in covering this story.

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