Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
A day after one city election, debate over the next one intensified.
Supporters of a proposed ordinance to limit abortions in Albuquerque packed into the City Council chambers late Wednesday, less than 24 hours after polls closed for the regular municipal election.
Many singled out one councilor in particular for criticism – Trudy Jones – and pleaded with the others to allow a special election on the abortion proposal to go forward next month. The council took no formal action one way or another, and the election is still scheduled for Nov. 19.
Jones hadn’t tried to block the election. But she did introduce a resolution Wednesday that would direct the city to pursue legal action to determine whether the abortion ordinance is constitutional and whether the city is obligated to propose it to voters, if it’s not.
In any case, her proposal appears to be dead as a practical matter. Councilors referred Jones’ bill to their finance and government committee, and the chairman of that committee, Don Harris, said he didn’t intend to place it on the committee’s agenda until Nov. 25.
That’s six days after the election.
Before the parliamentary maneuvers, supporters of the abortion ordinance repeatedly took aim at Jones, often in personal and religious terms. One speaker addressed Jones this way: “May your sneaky ways be judged and forgiven by God.”
In an interview, Jones said her bill was never intended as a way to take a stand on the merits of the ordinance itself, only to clarify its legality and the council’s options. The ordinance is almost certainly headed to court one way or another anyway, she said.
“Why would we pay over $1 million for a special election and the defense of a bill that we know is unconstitutional if it passes?” she asked.
The council already agreed – just barely, on a 5-4 vote last month – to schedule an election on the measure. That was after the city clerk certified that supporters had gathered enough signatures to trigger a special election under a provision of the City Charter.
Jones opposed the election.
The proposed ordinance would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions for when the woman’s life is in danger.
City attorneys have questioned whether the law could be enforced, even if adopted by voters.
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King weighed in Wednesday by saying he believes “the measure would not be legally enforceable.” He sent a letter to Jones and announced his analysis in a news release.
King didn’t address whether the council is obligated to hold an election, but he did say that “recent federal court actions have struck down ordinances identical or similar to the proposed measure in Albuquerque.”
Regardless, supporters of the measure said it deserved voter consideration and that councilors shouldn’t presume how courts would rule on it.
“This isn’t some political game about money,” said Laura Morrison, an Albuquerque resident who circulated petitions in favor of the ordinance. “These are lives. Human beings are being slaughtered.”
Some of the testimony was graphic. One person described babies being torn apart. Another called Albuquerque home to a large “child slaughterhouse.”
Wednesday’s debate came the day after voters headed to the polls to cast ballots in the mayor’s race and for six City Council seats. Supporters of the abortion proposal had hoped to have their measure on this week’s ballot, but the city didn’t certify their signatures in time.
Consequently, councilors last month agreed to schedule the Nov. 19 election. That’s the same day the city will hold a runoff election, if one is needed, for city races in which no candidate received 50 percent of the vote Tuesday.
A runoff is likely in council District 7, the Uptown area, where incumbent Janice Arnold-Jones led the field with 49 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
Opponents of the abortion proposal say it’s clearly illegal and would infringe on a woman’s constitutionally protected rights. They’ve said the city isn’t required to hold an election on an unconstitutional ordinance.