Sunday, November 17, 2013

Abortion At Stake in Albuquerque

A city-wide vote in Albuquerque could decide the fate of abortions for most of New Mexico. On Tuesday, the city will vote on a measure banning abortions after 20 weeks due to the idea that fetuses can feel pain. Albuquerque would become the first city in America to pass such a restrictive abortion measure. Since the two clinics providing abortions at that stage of pregnancy are located within the city, this city-wide vote could have huge implications for access to abortion by the rest of the state.
Moreover, public opinion seems to be in favor of the provision, as a poll demonstrated that 54% of voters support this abortion ban.

Abortion advocates fear that it would essentially place late term abortions out of reach to many women in the state, who seek such abortions for even extreme cases of fetus abnormalities. They also question the motives behind the fetal pain argument, citing The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who contend that pain is unlikely to be experienced until the third trimester.

Though it may seem odd that this matter is a city issue instead of a state issue, anti-abortion activists acted strategically, knowing that the Democratic Legislature would be unlikely to pass such a provision. Though the city is decidedly left-leaning, advocates of this policy are depending upon turnout from Republicans and Hispanic voters, who largely support the measure, to pass the ban. However, opponents of the measure are hoping that, despite the polls, the left-leaning city will continue to vote along with leftist ideology, defeating the measure.

This abortion ban provides an example of the many venues through which women's issues are being fought; making abortion a city-wide issue could bring these measures out of Democratically-controlled legislatures and into the hands of more conservative cities with abortion clinics that serve large portions of a state. It is easy to see how this could be a strategy adopted by states all over the country, fighting city to city to rid the country of abortion rights. Of course, with a Democratic legislature, it may be possible that the New Mexico legislature could pass a bill in the near future that overturns these city-specific measures. Furthermore, this issue could be a strategy by Republicans in New Mexico to unite and strengthen the party outside of the legislature, giving them agenda control at smaller, but not insignificant, levels. With such high levels of public support for the measure, the legislature could be perceived as out of touch with constituents if it attempted to fight this issue.

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  1. I think the main issue here is about who ultimately gets to decide whether abortions should be legal. I think it almost makes more sense to have the people voting on the issue instead of their representatives. Most people don't enjoy being told by the government what they can do with their bodies, so why not let the people decide instead. Unfortunately since it is being voted on by a city, it makes the the situation less clear as abortion could change in legality multiple times within a short drive.

    1. Brian--while I think you make a strong point about referendums and their often-times positive net effects--I think women's health is way different. In public referendums on issues such as raising taxes on cigarettes, or stopping puppy mills, they are not directly impacting the individual, but rather the public as a whole. While I definitely support the power of elections and an individual's vote--issues pertaining to a basic right such as health, especially those restricting access to healthcare, cause me to give it a large pause as I consider the direct impact on women affected. That being said, as this referendum moves forward and inspires other cities to attempt to restrict women's access to healthcare through this avenue--I have no doubt that the state legislature will work to prevent the negative effects from occurring,

    2. Most abortion advocates would probably channel some version of Sophie's argument. Brian, you stated that "Most people don't enjoy being told by the government what they can do with their bodies, so why not let the people decide instead."

      What's probably even more true is that most people don't enjoy being told by the *anyone* what they can do with their bodies. We typically divide issues of governance into two buckets: rights and policies. We want the government to protect our rights and make good policies. In a democracy we have a fairly great process for agreeing on policy: we vote for representatives, they make laws, and there are checks in balances. However, we really don't have a great system for deciding on which issues fall in the rights category. We've mostly resort to trial-and-error. I think Marissa would agree with me that the problem here is that while abortion advocates want abortion in the rights category, abortion opponents want to legislate the issue a certain way.

  2. A recent article in the NYT reports that this issue brought a record turnout of voters in Albuquerque, with 25% of registered voters casting ballots, and a final vote of 55% voting against the anti-abortion bill and 45% voting for it. I think this shows the power of interest groups to mobilize voters for highly politicized issues such as abortion, where many voters feel very passionate about their stance. Both sides were able to organize and inform voters about abortion, and this brought many more people to the polls.


  3. I'm glad to know that this measure failed. It seems as though both outside lobbying and local demographics won out in Albuquerque. Though I'm somewhat curious to know how activists and the Democratic state legislature would have responded if the proposal passed. Maybe, if the rule passed, the state legislature would try to overrule the city and promote the right to abortion across the state.

  4. Great article, Marissa!

    Very interesting analysis regarding abortion opponents localizing the issue as a way to avoid the democratic legislature until they drum enough organized support. It's also incredibly surprising that the legislature and the public have so vastly different opinions on the issue. Certainly, if this ever comes to a vote on the state level, we'll see the conflict between the legislators acting as trustees vs. delegates. I wonder if then mounting electoral pressure will push them towards representing their constituents’ interests over that of their party or themselves.

  5. Whats interesting to me is how this is so often the opposite case: A liberal city trying to take power away from a conservative state legislature, or fighting a provision imposed on them from said legislature. I tend to agree with Sophie here - this really is a rights issue, and I am very uncomfortable putting up rights to a referendum. While this particular bill is defendable, I'm curious as to how these activists discovered this "pain" threshold. - Brian N