Health / News / Politics

Landmark Abortion Vote

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By Marisa Demarco

— UPDATE Wednesday, Nov. 20, 7:11 a.m.: The Pain Capable Unborn Child Ordinance failed last night with a 10 percent margin. Democrat Diane Gibson was voted to represent District 7 in the runoff, which shifts the Council majority to the left. Results here.

— Outside two reproductive health clinics in Albuquerque most days, you’ll find a handful of demonstrators (more on Good Friday). And, once a year, graphic depictions of abortion are displayed at the University of New Mexico by the national group Justice for All. But abortion is generally just part of the background here, an unresolvable argument in the national right-left divide. Still, Albuquerque is an unusual place, and our politics don’t play out the way they do in the rest of the country.

Abortion hardly ever comes before our local political bodies. The City Council certainly hasn’t taken up the discourse in the last few years, at least not until councilors had to vote on whether to allow the issue onto tomorrow’s ballot. State legislators occasionally propose various bans in New Mexico, but the measures aren’t a priority and don’t often get very far during the session. This isn’t organically grown local controversy—not like, say, the education debate, which is coming out of a change in state policy that parents and teachers are protesting.

With today’s vote, abortion will be front-and-center in Albuquerque. The country’s news outlets will have their eyes trained on the 505. Voters registered within the city limits will decide whether to make it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. We would be the first city to enact this ban, though it is in place in other states.

Why is the debate playing out here? Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group from Kansas, has come to Albuquerque to challenge Southwest Women’s Options, a clinic that provides abortion after the second trimester. The clinic announced it would perform late-term abortions after Dr. George Tiller was killed in Kansas in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist. Tiller was one of few doctors in the United States who performed such procedures.

Plus, it turns out, it’s comparatively easy to get an issue on the ballot in Albuquerque. All it takes is 12,091 signatures and a City Council stamp of approval.

The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” as the abortion measure is called, was initially drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, which has presented the legislation in other states. The president of that organization, Carol Tobias, moved to New Mexico in 2005.

Another reason Albuquerque may have been targeted: Sometimes Burqueños don’t vote. Our turnout in the October election was not great. If most of the city is apathetic to these kinds of debates (or distrustful of politicians and laws), and if you can mobilize a relatively small group of people who agree with you to vote, then you’ve got it in the bag.

On this issue though, more than twice the number of early voters in the mayoral election have already hit the polls. About 44,000 have cast their ballots early and in-person.

Election Day proper is today: Tuesday, Nov. 19. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So, what exactly are people voting on? 

When you get to your polling location, you’ll most likely get a ballot that has a single question on it. The only exception will be if you are registered to vote within District 7, where a City Council runoff election is also happening. Then, you’ll have two things to vote on: D7 city councilor and abortion.

The abortion legislation is long, and it’s been criticized as being confusing. You can read it in advance here. To simplify:

If you fill in the bubble “for,” you are voting in favor of making it illegal within city limits to perform an abortion if the fetus is estimated to be 20 weeks old or older.

If you select “against,” you’ll be voting to leave the law in Albuquerque as it is. Abortion would remain legal, regardless of the age of the fetus.

Where can I vote?

Voters registered within Albuquerque’s city limits can vote at ANY of the polling locations throughout the city . The full list is on the City Clerk’s website.

Controversially, four churches are polling locations. The City Council, on a party-line vote, decided against allowing a polling location on the UNM campus. If you’re a student or instructor at UNM without wheels, there are a couple of locations within walking distance, including Bandelier Elementary School at 3309 Pershing Ave. SE.

ProgressNow New Mexico, a liberal nonprofit, teamed up with the UNM Graduate & Professional Student Association and other organizations to provide trolley rides to the polls for free. The trolleys depart from Redondo near the Bookstore between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sign up for your ride in advance.

Do I need my ID?

Yes. Bring any of the following:

• Driver’s license

• Student ID

• City Clerk issued ID

• A government-issued card with your name and photo

• Credit or debit card with your name and photo

• Insurance card with your name and photo

• Union membership card with your name and photo

• Professional association card with your name and photo

• Other memberships with your name and photo

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