Despite Albuquerque defeat, antiabortion activists vow to continue

Signs advocating votes for and against a ban on late-term abortions hang on a fence outside a voting site at Eisenhower Middle School in Albuquerque.
(Juan Antonio Labreche / Associated Press)

Despite the sound defeat of a late-term abortion referendum in Albuquerque, antiabortion activists vowed Wednesday to take a their efforts to cities throughout the country.

Tara Shaver, who moved to New Mexico three years ago with the intent of sparking a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, called the ballot loss a “deviation.” She said she’s hopeful the new approach of taking the fight to city halls—instead of state and federal legislatures—will take off throughout the country.

“We’re going to keep moving forward,” Shaver said.

New Mexico’s largest city became ground zero for the abortion fight after it became the nation’s first municipality to put a measure on its ballot to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.


Albuquerque’s “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance” needed a simple majority to pass. It lost by nearly 10 percentage points, about 55% to 45%. More than 87,000 voters cast ballots, including 50,000 who voted early or absentee.

Officials at Operation Rescue, a Kansas-based antiabortion group, stated on their website that they didn’t consider Tuesday a defeat, stating “We’ll be back.”

Instead, the campaign created a template for activists to change laws in their local communities, “shifting their focus away from politicians in Washington, D.C., who are reticent to engage in legislation on abortion,” they stated.

It was Operation Rescue that dispatched the Shavers three years ago to Albuquerque as “pro-life missionaries” with the goal of mobilizing a campaign to shut down Southwestern Women’s Options, one of a handful of clinics in the country that provide later-term abortions.

Before the election, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, had said they were prepared to take on their opponents’ new national strategy, stating that it was just the beginning of trying to do away with all abortions.

Wednesday, Hogue stated that she hoped the election sent a message to antiabortion activists.

“We hope today’s resounding defeat of this abortion ban sends a clear message to the extreme forces around the country now trying to impose their agenda on cities around this country,” Hogue said in a prepared statement. “When voters hear the real stories of real women and families facing these difficult decisions, they understand the danger and complexity of putting government between women and their doctors at these moments.”

To get the measure on the city ballot, antiabortion groups gathered 27,000 signatures, more than twice the number required.

Shaver has said that although terminations after 20 weeks account for about 1.3% of all abortion procedures, banning them would be one step toward outlawing the practice entirely. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on when a pregnancy is considered late-term. Definitions range from the 20th week of gestation to the 27th.

The landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling has been interpreted to mean that abortions can be performed through 24 weeks of pregnancy.

But states have tried to chip away at the ruling.

Just the next state over, Arizona officials have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after a 20-week limit on abortions was struck down by a federal court. Eleven other states have also adopted 20-week limits. Several of these bans have been blocked by courts while litigation is pending.


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