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Albuquerque voters reject late-term abortion ban

Women celebrate on stage as the late ban abortion vote is read Tuesday evening at the Andaluz Hotel in downtown Albuquerque. Today's vote was intended to  decide whether abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be banned in the city. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Women celebrate on stage as the late ban abortion vote is read Tuesday evening at the Andaluz Hotel in downtown Albuquerque. Today's vote was intended to decide whether abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be banned in the city. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
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  • (Journal Photo)

  • Women celebrate on stage as the late ban abortion vote is read Tuesday evening at the Andaluz Hotel in downtown Albuquerque. Today's vote was intended to decide whether abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be banned in the city. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

  • (Journal Photo)

  • Voters, including Melissa Bentley, second from right, and her husband Dustin Bentley, right, wait to vote in a long line outside of a voting site in Montgomery Crossing shopping center, near Montgomery and Wyoming NE, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, in Albuquerque, N.M. Albuquerque voters are considering a ban on late term abortion. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

  • Joshua Cummings with "Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust" waves from on top of a pedestrian bridge at traffic on I-40 to get the attention of people to vote in today's election on Tuesday, Nov.19, 2013. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

  • Supporters and proponents of the proposed ban on late abortion hold signs representing their positions outside of a polling site on Menaul near San Mateo NE on Tuesday November 19, 2013. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

As the nation watched, Albuquerque voters soundly rejected plans late Tuesday to make their home the first city in the country to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to unofficial election returns.

About 55 percent of voters opposed the proposal, and 45 percent supported it.

At Hotel Andaluz, a crowd of about 100 opponents of the measure cheered as results rolled in.

“Let this be a lesson to all 50 states and the Congress: Tonight the people of Albuquerque rejected an extreme agenda pushed by out-of-state and out-of touch groups that want to end safe and legal abortion altogether,” opposition campaign director Jennifer Ford said. “Dangerous bans like this do not belong in Albuquerque or New Mexico or the nation.”

The crowd grew thin, meanwhile, at an Election Night party for supporters of the ban.

“I’m disappointed that so many people in our city are willing to perpetuate killing babies through all nine months of pregnancy,” campaign spokeswoman Tara Shaver said in an interview at the Crowne Plaza hotel. “That says a lot about Albuquerque, and it’s not good.”

The vote followed a turbulent, provocative campaign that put Albuquerque at the center of the nation’s debate over abortion.

Supporters of the proposal gathered thousands of petition signatures over the summer to force City Hall to hold a special election on the issue. They said it would be the first 20-week ban enacted at the municipal level – a move supporters described as necessary to address Albuquerque’s role as what they called the “late-term abortion capital” of the country.

A clinic on Lomas NE is one of only a handful in the country that provides third-trimester abortions, and it draws patients from all over the United States.

Two colleagues of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, who was murdered in 2009, started working in Albuquerque after his death. Anti-abortion activists often pray outside the clinic and carry signs.

The ballot measure before voters Tuesday would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Change in ideology

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the results are a sign that Albuquerque’s electorate is growing more liberal.

“Albuquerque is truly voting more like a real urban area,” he said.

Opponents of the ban pooled their money together and hired very competent people who developed highly effective ads that were coordinated and targeted, Sanderoff said. “I think they went a long way toward inspiring their base.”

Opponents also got their voters to the polls early, winning by a sizable margin among people who cast ballots at early voting sites, he said.

Supporters, on the other hand, “didn’t seem quite as sophisticated in their campaign activities,” Sanderoff said. “Perhaps their zealousness turned off some voters.”

The proposal was brought forth under a provision of the City Charter that allows for direct legislation through voter initiative.

It was written by supporters, not the City Council or city attorneys. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he didn’t believe it would be legally enforceable because similar laws have been struck down in federal court.

The fight may not be over.

Shaver, who pushed for passage of the ordinance, said she hopes the city campaign catches the attention of state lawmakers.

“Ultimately, either way, we’re going to continue moving forward and doing what we do – and that is creating awareness, bringing education to the whole community and continue rallying the troops,” Shaver said.

High turnout

Turnout beat last month’s mayoral election. About 24 percent of the city’s voters participated in Tuesday’s election, compared to 20 percent in the mayor’s race.

Voters waited up to an hour to cast ballots at some polling sites, particularly in the Southeast Heights and near the University of New Mexico.

Phuong Nguyen, 20, said after voting at Jefferson Middle School that she opposes the measure because some women have little choice but to seek an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“That’s a very dangerous time for a woman to have an abortion,” said Nguyen, a UNM student studying biology. “I don’t see women going into an abortion lightly, especially after five months.”

Lauren Albonico, 27, who voted with her 1-year-old son, said she voted in favor of the ordinance because she believes life begins at conception.

“I know it’s a hard issue, but I think a culture that promotes adoption rather than abortion is something we need to head toward,” Albonico said.

The campaign was intense and often a little strange.

A California-based group called “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” protested at the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, pushing for installation of a panel on abortion. They also visited the North Valley home of a doctor, whom they described as an “abortionist.”

On Election Day itself, anti-abortion protesters triggered complaints at one polling site, the Albuquerque Museum in Old Town.

City Clerk Amy Bailey said protesters there held graphic “dead-baby signs” that scared schoolchildren, and there were concerns about whether protesters had impeded people’s ability to get into the museum. Museum security officers dispersed the crowd, she said.

“They had started to encroach on the 100-foot limit,” Bailey said of the protesters.

Two anti-abortion protesters standing on the sidewalk in front of the museum about 1 p.m. denied using aggressive tactics. They had posters with photos and drawings of babies and fetuses, with “rescue me” and similar slogans.

Journal staff writer Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this article.

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