ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The words on the ballot are so tiny, so numerous and so very confusing, they said.
The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance – a loaded, lengthy title right there – was written by its supporters with some detail on what they described as the science of fetal pain, the development of a fetus, the rules regarding late-term abortion, the “governmental interest” in it all.
This is not a snappy “should we ban late-term abortions in the city of Albuquerque” kind of ballot measure, but a complicated dissertation sought by advocates of abortion limits.
Which left early voters like Fred Tidwell and his wife and eight of the 10 people he counted at his polling place perplexed as to exactly what the ordinance was meant to do.
“I don’t even know what we’re voting on,” he said.
In Downtown, City Clerk Amy Bailey and her staff were handling what she termed an “unbelievable” number of calls concerning the meaning of the ordinance, the wording of which she said was approved by the City Council.
‘They want us to interpret the ballot for them and tell them how to vote, and we just can’t do that,” Bailey said.
(Hint: A “FOR” vote is a vote to prohibit a physician from performing an abortion if the fetus is determined to be 20 weeks or older, unless the woman’s life is at risk. But the ordinance does not make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, viability of the fetus or choice. Which means that, yes, you view abortion, particularly those performed further along in a pregnancy, as the killing of unborn children. An “AGAINST” vote is a vote against the ban. Which means that, yes, you agree that women are still capable of making this very personal decision, that the fetus has no independent legal standing or protection and that, yes, it is none of your, your church’s or the city’s business.)
Despite the confusion, 19,654 votes had been cast by Thursday afternoon since early voting began Oct. 30 – an extremely high number for a special city election, Bailey said.
The special election, which includes a runoff vote for the District 7 city councilor seat, is set for Nov. 19. Early voting ends Nov. 15. Only Albuquerque residents can vote.
Near an early voting site on Menaul NE, a white truck cruised along, towing a mobile billboard bearing the words “Vote for late-term abortion ban” alongside gruesome images of tiny, torn body parts, advertised as aborted late-term fetuses. Some onlookers stared sorrowfully; others averted their eyes.
“If the photographic evidence of the injustice of abortion doesn’t motivate the pro-life vote, nothing will,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of Created Equal, the Ohio-based operation behind the billboards and one of several out-of-state anti-abortion groups active in Albuquerque, the current ground zero for reproductive rights.
On social media, friends bickered over whether abortion is murder or a woman’s choice, whether the ordinance was simply humane or a sneaky way around Roe v. Wade, whether religious beliefs should sway city law.
Reader Carol Siemens had plenty of questions for me: How many clinics in Albuquerque provide late-term abortions at 20 weeks or more? (One.) How many late-term abortions are performed? (About 20 to 35 a year for pregnancies at 28 weeks or more, according to previous Journal reports, although proponents of the ban say the annual numbers are in the hundreds.) Do women come from out of state to have late-term abortions? (Yes.) Does Planned Parenthood do them? (No.) Do “unborn babies” feel pain? (The science is ongoing.)
Wendy had answers. She had no confusion.
The 47-year-old Albuquerque elementary school teacher and married mother of two knows a lot about late-term abortions – the pros and cons, the debate, the religion, the science.
“I’ve been talking to people about this proposed law, and every time I tell my story, people say, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t realize what this was about,’ ” she said. “They think women who have late-term abortions are careless, that they left this decision to the last minute.”
It’s not that, she said. Not every time. Not in her case.
Other stories can be told in support of the ban, but her story is this: In 1998, she and her husband, already the parents of a 3-year-old girl, were expecting another child. It was a planned pregnancy, a welcomed pregnancy and, up until the 26th week, a healthy pregnancy. Or so she thought.
She began spotting. She underwent an ultrasound and other tests and learned that her baby had trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality causing profound birth defects and killing more than 80 percent of its little victims before their first birthdays.
Wendy’s baby had no kidneys. The brain, lungs and other organs would never function. The baby had a cleft palate and six fingers on each hand.
“We were told the baby could not possibly live,” she said.
She and her husband went home, sought grief counseling, researched, talked, thought. They still hoped the baby would be born alive and that they could hold her before she died.
At 30 weeks, however, Wendy contracted toxemia – more commonly known today as pre-eclampsia – a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure, swelling and convulsions.
Doctors induced labor, and the procedure to end the pregnancy began. Sometime during the process, the baby died.
“I didn’t want to know when,” she said.
Most people she tells her story to don’t realize that many of the women who undergo late-term abortions found themselves in a similar agonizing situation, she said.
And while proponents of the ordinance say someone in Wendy’s predicament would almost certainly be exempted from the ban, Wendy and others who stand against the ordinance say they are not convinced that the ban would not serve to make a horrendous situation unbearable and potentially deadly.
“I can’t even imagine feeling sick and grieving and having to go through something in which now your doctors’ hands are tied or they hesitate because they don’t know what they can do legally,” she said. “You can’t write an ordinance like this to cover every exception, because every situation is different.”
Which makes those tiny, numerous words on the ballot even more confusing, even more crucial to understand.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.