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TV commercials duel over late-term abortion issue

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Both sides of the debate surrounding a proposed ban on Albuquerque abortions after 20 weeks have taken to TV to make their case to voters before next week’s Nov. 19 special election.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed ban say their TV campaigns are a critical component of their efforts to get voters to the polls for an election being held two weeks later than the typical Election Day.

Opponents of the ban, organized through the group “Respect ABQ Women,” have spent about $107,000 airing two TV commercials, spokesman Micah McCoy said. Their advertising effort began in late October, when early voting began for the ballot initiative.

With a head start, opponents have spent nearly double what supporters have for TV ads.

“It’s definitely an important part of our effort to really kind of combat a lot of the misinformation that surrounds this ballot measure,” McCoy said of the opposition group’s ads. “We just think it’s incredibly important to help Albuquerque voters realize what this actually does.”

The opposition group includes local affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. Through Friday, Respect ABQ Women reported raising about $585,000 from local and national sources to fund its political efforts.

Supporters of the ban, meanwhile, made their first splash in TV advertising on Tuesday with a $50,000 purchase for commercial time on network and cable TV channels.

The supporters’ ad buy for three different commercials was paid by the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion political nonprofit group that has established operations in Albuquerque to advocate for the ballot initiative.

“We are a national organization, and we consider this to be a moment of national importance, this vote next week,” said SBA List President Marjorie Danneenfelser. “Very often, local organizations sometimes don’t have all the means that they would like to have, so we come in and partner. … They needed some help, we wanted to help.”

Unlike opponent groups, which have pooled resources into a single coalition organization, supporters of the ban have continued to operate independently, resulting in lower cash reserves and a limited ability to fund a TV ad campaign.

Key local groups supporting the ban, including Project Defending Life and Protect ABQ Women and Children, have reported fundraising that when combined totals nearly $125,000. Project Defending Life appears to have disclosed its fundraising under the name “ABQ Voters for Late Term Abortion Ban.”

Elisa Martinez, chairwoman of Protect ABQ Women and Children, said the support from a national group to fund TV ads is a major boost to aid the efforts of local groups with more limited resources.

“I just welcome any group who is effectively advocating for this issue,” Martinez said.

What the ads say

The first TV ad of the campaign came from opponents emphasizing the need for abortion options in case of medical complications.

That first Respect ABQ Women ad features a mother saying families and their doctors have a right to choose abortion when necessary. The speaker recalls choosing abortion after learning around 20 weeks of pregnancy that her fetus was “very sick.”

The woman says her choices were to “carry the baby to term and watch her suffocate or I could end the pregnancy early and let her go peacefully.”

The proposed ordinance would ban abortions after 20 weeks except when the mother’s life is in danger.

The opposition group later added a second ad featuring a retired Albuquerque family practice physician saying “families need compassion and medical options” in instances of serious medical anomalies or crises during a pregnancy.

The commercial adds that under the proposed Albuquerque ordinance, abortions later than 20 weeks also would be prohibited in cases of rape.

Supporters of the proposed 20-week abortion ban countered with three ads that focus on the assertion that fetuses at that stage of pregnancy feel pain.

Opponents of the ballot initiative say the claim that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks is false.

One of the supporter ads funded by Susan B. Anthony List features an apparently pregnant woman who describes herself as “pro-choice,” but says she opposes abortions after 20 weeks because of concerns the fetus feels pain.

“At a point the baby feels pain, shouldn’t we all say that’s just too far?” the speaker asks.

Another one of the supporters’ ads says “it’s a medical fact” that fetuses feel pain “at five months” of pregnancy, near the 20-week stage.

A third ad, the only commercial currently airing featuring a male speaker, says, “Protecting the weak from pain is one of the most human things we can do. … Don’t you think human compassion should always trump politics?”