Cities, not states, could be the next center of the abortion debate.
In Albuquerque, N.M., pro-life activists are trying a new strategy: Banning late-term abortions within the city limits, instead of trying for a statewide ban. Over three weeks this summer, local pro-lifers collected 27,000 signatures — 15,000 more than were needed — to place a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks on a city ballot on November 19.
“We thought it was a stroke of genius for a couple of reasons: If we ever get it passed, then we restrict late-term abortions,” says Stephen Imbarrato, a Catholic priest who serves as president of Project Defending Life, a New Mexico–based pro-life group. But even if the ordinance doesn’t pass, Imbarrato believes it could help educate people about the horrors of late-term abortions: “Even if these initiatives come to naught . . . the education value, the informational value, the public-relations value, you can’t put a dollar amount on it.”
The idea to put the measure up for a citywide vote came after pro-lifers saw the success of activists who wanted to hike the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 in 2012: They gathered enough signatures to put the proposition on the ballot, and Albuquerque voters passed the measure.
There are currently two abortion clinics in the city, Planned Parenthood and Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic. Local pro-lifers say that people come from other states — and even countries — to get late-term abortions in Albuquerque. Tara Shaver, who serves as a spokesperson for Project Defending Life, says of her experience trying to persuade women at the Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic not to have abortions that she has seen “women coming from all over the world, and all over the country. We’ve seen cars from every single state. We’ve talked to women who’ve come from the U.K.,” and from Mexico as well.
The measure looks likely to pass: According to a September poll conducted by the Albuquerque Journal, 54 percent of city voters approve of it, while only 39 percent oppose it. “It’s supported by most citizens and particularly by Hispanics,” comments Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “They outpoll the general population in their support for it. So I think it’s a microcosm of what should be happening on the national level when the Republican party comes back to itself — it should emulate the same kind of strategy” when it comes to passing late-term abortion bans, which could attract Hispanic support. Right now, while the federal House has passed such a ban, the Senate has not yet acted to introduce a companion measure.
There’s no doubt the Albuquerque measure will face legal challenges: ACLU New Mexico has already announced its intention to file suit if it passes. But pro-lifers are optimistic — as long as they are able to defend the measure. “If the suit is brought against it, we are hoping that we are able to be involved in the defense of the ordinance,” says Imbarrato. “We believe that the ordinance will be constitutional. One of our concerns is that city will not allow us to defend the ordinance, and that they may take a very lackadaisical attitude to defending the ordinance.”
So far, the issue of banning late-term abortions doesn’t appear to have gained significant traction in the Land of Enchantment as a whole. A spokesman for Republican New Mexico governor Susana Martinez did not respond to a request for comment on the ordinance.
Dannenfelser thinks that President Obama’s extreme views on abortion — unlike the majority of Americans, he favors having no restrictions — and media stories about the horrors in Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic are driving the new push behind late-term abortion bans.
“Nobody wants to look at such a horrible thing, and so they don’t unless they have to,” she says of late-term abortions. “Even with the medium- to low-level coverage Gosnell and then all the other clinics have gotten, it is the first time a lot of people have even realized there were late-term abortions.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.