Albuquerque's 20-Week Abortion Ban Draws Money, Activists From Both Sides

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On Tuesday, Albuquerque will vote on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance, a citywide proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. The “citywide” part of that proposal is a bit misleading — the only doctors in the state who perform 20-week abortions are located in Albuquerque, so it's effectively a statewide ban. Furthermore, only four doctors nationwide perform late-term abortions, and two are are located in Albuquerque, so the proposition would have a significant effect on the accessibility of abortion on a national level as well.

Despite receiving relatively light news coverage, the proposal has drawn significant resources from national pro-life and pro-choice groups across the country. It is being campaigned for by Operation Rescue, which has sent “pro-life missionaries” to the city, and a California-based group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, which is reaching out to voters and protesting outside of the city's Holocaust museum. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has spent upwards of $200,000 to defeat the Albuquerque measure and is handling get-out-the-vote efforts on the ground, while the feminist group Stop Patriarchy has sent a team to talk with undecided voters and coordinate with local pro-choice groups. 

There's little wonder why the measure has attracted such attention. Sunsara Taylor, a writer and initiator with Stop Patriarchy, tells Bustle the proposal stands atop a slippery slope when it comes to abortion rights. “This 20-week restriction is really not just a local issue,” Taylor says. “It’s not really just about restricting late term abortions. It’s a part of a national strategy of anti-abortion forces to step-by-step end all abortion for all women in all circumstance.”

The group has five volunteers from around the country working in Albuquerque to fight the measure. Unlike organizations like Planned Parenthood, which are largely working to mobilize voters, Stop Patriarchy’s campaign is aimed more at engaging residents in a broader discussion about abortion rights and the societal role that the anti-abortion movement encourages women to play.

“People think the fight for abortion is about babies," Taylor says. "It’s never been about babies. It’s always been about women, and the desire to control women. The anti-abortion movement is also anti-birth control. They’re also anti-sex-education. If they were really about reducing abortion, they’d be big proponents of birth control.”

In reality, Taylor argues, the Albuquerque proposition — and the entire anti-abortion movement — is “about forcing women to have babies” and promoting a “cult of motherhood.” “Let’s stop talking about fetuses, because that’s not what they’re motivated by,” Taylor says. “Let’s talk about women, and what role they want to have for women, and what role women need to have.”

Kristin Garza, outreach director for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, disagrees. She tells Bustle the legislation actually ensures women's safety, since, according to pro-life activists like Garza, abortions performed after 20 weeks are inherently riskier, and may be more likely to lead to physical and emotional complications for women. Garza also emphasizes the fact that unlike, say, the 20-week ban on abortions that Wendy Davis filibustered in Texas over the summer, the Albuquerque provision was initiated by the city's inhabitants, not politicians. 

“The citizens of [Albuquerque] decided that they wanted their city to be safer,” Garza says. “This piece of legislation is the first ban on really any kind of abortion that’s voter-initiated, citizen-initiated. If it’s not going to happen in Washington, the idea that we can do it at the municipal level is extremely inspiring, and extremely productive.” 

The ballot measure in Albuquerque might have been voter-initiated, but it’s not entirely clean of the local government’s fingerprints. After proponents gathered the requisite 12,000 signatures, the City Council was split on whether to actually place the measure on the ballot. Some argued — correctly — that the city’s charter required them to do so. Others said that, in the words of one Republican councillor, “Every court that’s reviewed this type of law has decided it’s unconstitutional,” and thus the city would be be wasting money in both holding the initial vote and defending it later in court. Ultimately, the council voted 5-4 to put it on the ballot.

As for Garza's point that the provision is in the best interest of women's safety? Taylor says the ordinance would actually harm women. “The truth is that when abortion is illegal, women die in an attempt to get abortions that are unsafe," Taylor says. "Women risk their lives and go through tremendous humiliation, and women have to forego their lives because they’re forced to have children that they do not want and cannot care for.”

Despite their obvious differences, both sides seem to agree on two things. One, that the proposition is a launchpad for future anti-abortion legislation, and two, that the other side is promoting Nazi ideals. “Yes, we tie abortion to genocide,” Garza says. “A genocide or a holocaust is the systematic extermination of a group of people based on an arbitrary characteristic decided by political groups, or governments, or what have you.”

For what “arbitrary characteristic” are unborn babies being targeted? “Age,” Garza says. “[Unborn babies] are younger than us, they’re being dehumanized because they’re younger than us.”

Garza made local news in August for a protest the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust held outside of the city’s Holocaust museum. Activists held up a banner outside the museum comparing America to Auschwitz, but that wasn’t even the most controversial part of the demonstration: Inside, demonstrators handed out anti-abortion leaflets, and demanded that the museum open an exhibit comparing the Holocaust to abortion. 

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But, to Stop Patriarchy, the pro-life movement is “fascist,” as the Nazi Party pioneered the idea that “women’s reproduction should be up to the state, and that women are fundamentally breeders." "You have this elevation of people like the Duggars, who are trying to have 19 children, as if this is something to commend," Taylor says. "As if women’s duty is to have huge numbers of children. The last child that [Michelle Duggar] had had, her life was in danger. She made a big point [saying] 'I’m going to have children anyhow, it’s what God wants me to do, I’ll risk my own life.' The idea that women should subordinate their lives to bearing children is a core concept of fascist movements."

Having children isn't the problem, Taylor says; the problem is "elevating it, rewarding it, building a cult of motherhood, as if that’s the most meaningful or significant thing that women can do."

There are a smattering of other anti-abortion organizations on the ground campaigning for the proposition to ban abortions after 20 weeks in Albuquerque. Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Sheehan is lobbying parishioners to vote for it, while the Project Defending Life is reaching out to local churches, leading prayer groups and trucking billboards around the city with pictures of dismembered fetuses

“When we’re victorious, the rest of the nation will see that any citizen, any municipality can do this,” Garza says. “[Today's vote] will be an example of how we can pass common sense legislation throughout the nation that protects women.”

Taylor agrees that Albuquerque's vote has nationwide ramifications. "This will affect the whole state, but it’ll also affect women across the country who discover late in pregnancy that they need an abortion," she says. "A lot of birth defects don’t show up until 20 weeks. [Women] develop complications later in their own health. A lot of women who are very young or impoverished have trouble getting the resources together earlier.

"And frankly, a lot of women are in denial, or miseducated about their bodies," Taylor continues. "They’re scared, and they don’t confront the fact that they’re pregnant until it’s late. And so the women who are the most desperate, and who need late abortions — which is a very small, but very important percentage of women — they travel from across the country to go to Albuquerque."

Regardless of the fact that the proposition was initiated at a local level, it almost certainly won’t end there. The state’s attorney general, Democrat Gary King, thinks the measure is unconstitutional, and as with every new abortion-related law, there’s no question that it’ll be challenged in court immediately if it passes Tuesday.

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