Albuquerque city councilors narrowly agreed late Monday to send the proposed abortion ordinance to voters in a special election this fall.
The council voted 5-4 to schedule the election for Nov. 19, which is also the tentative date for a runoff election in city races, if one is needed.
The proposed ordinance would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions for cases in which the woman’s life is in danger.
Several councilors questioned whether the ordinance is constitutional and struggled with whether they were required to schedule a vote on the measure, which was brought forth when supporters gathered thousands of signatures over the summer.
City Council President Dan Lewis said the council was simply following the law on Monday by picking an election day and format.
“We’re following the (City) Charter,” he said. “It’s not really our purview … to decide whether this is constitutional or not.”
Others disagreed, especially after a City Council policy analyst – and lawyer – said similar measures in Arizona and Utah had been struck down in court.
“Every court that’s reviewed this type of law has decided it’s unconstitutional,” Councilor Roxanna Meyers said. “I think it would be irresponsible of us to move forward” with an election that would trigger litigation.
Ultimately, the election resolution prevailed with support from Lewis, Ken Sanchez, Brad Winter, Janice Arnold-Jones and Don Harris. They generally said they had no discretion over whether to send it out for election because supporters had gathered enough signatures.
Opposed were Meyers, Isaac Benton, Rey Garduño and Trudy Jones.
Monday’s resolution calls for the abortion election to be conducted entirely by mail if there are no runoffs this year. It will be an in-person election if at least one runoff election is needed.
Runoff elections are required only when no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the regular city election, which is Oct. 8. The mayor and six council seats are on the ballot that day.
City Clerk Amy Bailey certified about three weeks ago that the abortion measure had the required 12,091 signatures to trigger an election under the City Charter.
Councilors also had the option of approving the ordinance outright, with no election, but no one spoke in favor of that.
The election resolution adopted Monday calls for putting the entire five-page ordinance on the ballot, not just a short summary.
The formal name is the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance.”