In the face of increasing restrictions and failing lawsuits that are chipping away at a person’s right to decide to terminate a pregnancy, the failure of abortion opponents to pass a city-level 20-week post fertilization ban in Albuquerque, N.M., is an obvious victory. With hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring into the city on both sides of the issue, and support coming from across the country during the final days of the campaign, the ordinance that would essentially eliminate the ability to offer later abortions in any cases for pregnant people in a multi-state area failed by about a ten point margin. Although Tuesday’s voters were more supportive of the ban than those who voted early, a massive gap between those who opposed and those who favored the ban dominated the early voting, leaving a gap anti-choice voters were unable to bridge.
As a victory, especially in the midst of so many recent defeats, like the Texas clinic TRAP law being allowed to shut down vast numbers of providers in that state, the Albuquerque defeat couldn’t happen at a better time. By putting an abortion restriction up to a popular vote, it allowed Albuquerque residents to show their enthusiastic support when it comes to allowing patients and doctors to make the medical decisions they believe are best, without placing laws and restrictions upon them.
However, anti-abortion activists have always been able to see a victory in every defeat, and their reaction in this case has been no different. Despite being the ones to actively create the ballot initiative, gather the signatures, rally the city council to force them to put it onto the ballot, push for a special election, bring in outside legal counsel to strong arm the council when they were told the bill was unconstitutional, bus in special groups like Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, Students for Life and other national advocacy groups, and have a final ad expenditure of $100,000 from the Susan B. Anthony List, anti-choice forces are blaming their loss on being outspent and out-manned by “pro-abortion” forces.
Once more anti-abortion activists frame themselves as underdogs in a battle of their own creation. Even worse, it is a battle to end constitutionally protected rights granted to all pregnant people, regarding a legal medical procedure that those who oppose it have no obligation to undergo themselves. Yet even as they lose at the ballot box, they also are in an enviable position of still winning, as well.
If the intention of the Albuquerque ballot amendment was truly to end abortion in the city at 20 weeks post-fertilization, it was a failure before it ever went to the voters. As their own Attorney General stated, the ban was probably both unconstitutional and unenforceable. Ballot initiatives restricting abortion have traditionally failed when put up to popular vote, as Mississippi and Colorado have shown us. Even if it had been approved by the voters it would have been blocked before it was implemented, leaving abortion just as available as it was before the vote.
Although the status of abortions in the city was never going to change, anti-choice activists were instead able to accomplish a different goal — putting the clinics providing those abortions and the doctors performing those terminations even further in the public eye. That was no doubt a major factor in the ballot campaign from the beginning, and one reinforced by the early efforts to pass out post cards with the names and pictures of the providers earlier this summer, after signatures had been gathered but far before voting had ever begun. The postcards were titled “The Killers Among Us.”
Was the real impetus behind the Albuquerque ban a chance to better target the doctors in Albuquerque performing second and third trimester abortions, and was the ban itself just icing on the cake if they managed to make it happen? Did activists in part want to lessen the impact that positive portrayals of later abortions were having on the public dialogue as a result of the movie “After Tiller,” which featured two of the abortion doctors who would have been affected by the ban? Possibly. After all, the Free Beacon reports that the idea was conceived in February of 2013. “After Tiller” premiered at Sundance Film Festival in mid January.
So today, it’s a good time to celebrate the defeat of a ballot initiative that would have taken medical decisions away from the people best qualified to make them. However, we need to be cognizant of the fact that there is a much longer strategy in place, and sometimes victories — and defeats — aren’t as clear cut as they seem.
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