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Abortion bill is likely to be on city’s ballot

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A public vote on limiting abortions in Albuquerque appears likely.

Activists who want to restrict abortions in the city say they’ve turned in more than twice the number of signatures needed to get a proposed ordinance on the ballot this fall.

Tara Shaver, who helped organize the effort, said the group submitted its last batch of signatures to the city clerk on Thursday, bringing the total to nearly 27,000.

Staffers in the clerk’s office were already working during the afternoon to see how many of the signatures can be verified as having come from registered voters in Albuquerque. Supporters of the abortion ordinance need 12,091 signatures to force the city to hold an election on the issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico immediately denounced the proposal and said it wouldn’t hold up in court, even if placed on the ballot and approved by voters. The city attorney also has questioned whether it could be enforced legally.

The proposed ordinance would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions for cases in which the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Marcella Melendez of the Catholic Coalition of New Mexico said the number of signatures gathered so quickly makes “a big statement” about public support for the measure.

She and other activists want to get the proposal on the Oct. 8 city ballot, when the mayor and six City Council seats are already going before voters. They said they spent less than a month gathering signatures.

“We’re completely blown away by the response of the community,” Shaver told reporters.

The ACLU released a statement saying the proposal would provide no exceptions in the case of rape, incest or severe fetal anomaly.

“The extremely personal decision (of) whether to have a safe, legal abortion belongs between a woman and her doctor,” said Alexandra Freedman Smith, staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico. “This organized effort is all about ignoring the personal circumstances of women and putting the government in the exam room where it doesn’t belong.”

The proposed ordinance is three-pages long. It says:

• An abortion shall not be performed if the “post-fertilization age … of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater.”

• The prohibition doesn’t apply if the abortion is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. The life-threatening situation, however, can’t be from “psychological or emotional conditions.”

• If an abortion is provided under the exception, the doctor must terminate the pregnancy in a way that provides “the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive,” unless doing so would raise the risk of death or irreversible physical impairment of the pregnant woman.

The Southwest Women’s Law Center also criticized the proposal.

“The out-of-state organizations behind this ballot measure are out of touch with New Mexico,” said Pamelya Herndon, the center’s executive director.

Shaver said she’s confident the ordinance would survive a court challenge. Called the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance,” it’s modeled on legislation elsewhere.

Eleven state legislatures have passed similar measures.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry last week signed into law a measure that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires abortion clinics to meet the standards of hospital-type surgical centers and requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Similar restrictions enacted in other states face legal challenges. Courts in Arizona, Georgia and Idaho have blocked 20-week abortion bans from taking effect. Requirements that doctors have hospital admitting privileges have been blocked by courts in three other states.

The proposed Albuquerque ballot initiative contains only the 20-week abortion ban. It would not require clinics to meet hospital surgical standards or require physicians to have hospital admitting privileges.

Such ordinances have been challenged in court, and a federal court struck down an Arizona law that banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

City Councilor Trudy Jones sent a letter to state Attorney General Gary King this week asking him whether the proposal would be “legally enforceable” if passed.

City attorneys say they believe the City Charter requires putting the ordinance on the ballot, regardless of the proposal’s legality, as long as supporters meet the 12,091-signature requirement.

Under the City Charter, if the clerk certifies they have met the requirement, the ordinance must be proposed to the City Council. If the council rejects the ordinance, amends it or fails to act within a certain period of time, the proposal must be scheduled for an election within 90 days, according to the charter.

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