Abor­tion bat­tle goes lo­cal with N.M. vote

20-week ban eyed in Al­bu­querque

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

AL­BU­QUERQUE, N.M. | Three years af­ter Dr. Ge­orge Tiller, one of the few doc­tors who openly ad­ver­tised that he per­formed late-term abor­tions, was killed by a pro­tester in Wi­chita, Kan., two of his fel­low doc­tors now prac­tice at South­west­ern Women’s Op­tions, a late-term abor­tion clinic in Al­bu­querque.

And the con­tro­versy that sur­rounded Tiller has moved with them — though this time the bat­tle­ground isn’t at the clinic door or the bar­rel of a gun, but rather on vot­ers’ bal­lots.

On Tues­day, Al­bu­querque vot­ers will be asked whether to ap­prove a ban on abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks. It’s the same kind of ban that has passed in Texas and more than a dozen other states, but this is the first time it has been put up for a di­rect vote and the first to cover a spe­cific city.

Ad­vo­cates say their chief tar­get in the vote is Dr. Cur­tis Boyd and his staff at South­west­ern Women’s Op­tions, a non­de­script one-story build­ing just off In­ter­state 25 that draws pa­tients from across the coun­try and, ac­cord­ing to its op­po­nents, even from other coun­tries.

“Be­cause Cur­tis Boyd is em­ploy­ing Ge­orge Tiller’s for­mer abor­tion­ists, they’re be­ing able to reap the re­fer­ral sys­tem that Ge­orge Tiller had in place. Be­cause Cur­tis Boyd has hired Shel­ley Sella and Su­san Robin­son, he’s now taken his net­work,” said Tara Shaver, a pro-life mis­sion­ary who was an in­tern for Op­er­a­tion Res­cue in Wi­chita be­fore mov­ing to Al­bu­querque, where she and her hus­band work for Project De­fend­ing Life.

“We were lit­er­ally driv­ing to Kansas that Sun­day morn­ing when Ge­orge Tiller was mur­dered,” Mrs. Shaver said. “Def­i­nitely not some­thing we were happy about at all. In fact, Op­er­a­tion Res­cue was the first org to come out con­demn­ing that be­cause we’re pro-life and we don’t want any­one to die. We want the killing to stop.” For both sides, Al­bu­querque is a test. Pro-lif­ers say it’s their chance to ex­pand the field of ac­tion. They are won­der­ing how many other cities and coun­ties have sim­i­lar ref­er­en­dums that could be tapped, or city or county coun­cils that might be open to per­sua­sion.

For pro-choice ac­tivists, Al­bu­querque is a line in the sand. They be­lieve pro-life ac­tivists have hit their limit at the state level af­ter per­suad­ing 14 states to ap­prove bans on abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks, so they need to find new tac­tics in the courts or at the lo­cal level.

“If you look at the map, they’ve run out of deep-red leg­is­la­tures to push abor­tion re­stric­tions,” said Pa­trick Davis, di­rec­tor of Pro­gressNow New Mex­ico. “Where the move­ment goes next de­pends on what the new strat­egy is.”

First in the na­tion

Mrs. Shaver said pro-life forces had been try­ing the usual meth­ods of lob­by­ing the Demo­crat-con­trolled state Leg­is­la­ture, which year af­ter year would bot­tle up pro-life bills in com­mit­tee.

But last year, the pro-lif­ers watched as ac­tivists used the ref­er­en­dum tool to force an in­crease in the city’s min­i­mum wage and won­dered why they couldn’t go the same route.

They rounded up far more sig­na­tures than needed to force the is­sue, giv­ing the City Coun­cil a choice: ei­ther adopt the abor­tion ban, amend it or send it to vot­ers. They chose to go to the polls.

Early on, the fight played out chiefly be­tween lo­cal groups. Pro-lif­ers ral­lied Catholic and evan­gel­i­cal churches in the city, and pro-choice ad­vo­cates or­ga­nized women’s groups un­der the um­brella Re­spect ABQ Women.

That has changed in the past cou­ple of weeks as big na­tional play­ers be­came in­vested.

The Su­san B. An­thony List, a pro-life group that has helped push 20-week bans in var­i­ous states, has poured tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in ad­ver­tis­ing money into the ini­tia­tive. Pres­i­dent Obama’s po­lit­i­cal arm has be­come in­volved on the other side, us­ing the vote to try to raise money.

“The groups be­hind the bal­lot ini­tia­tive are ex­tremely well-funded and — if they win in Al­bu­querque — you can bet they’re go­ing to take this ap­proach to cities and states across the coun­try,” wrote Kaili Lambe, women’s is­sues cam­paign man­ager for Or­ga­niz­ing for Ac­tion, the ad­vo­cacy group that emerged from Mr. Obama’s cam­paign team.

New Mex­ico al­ways has been lib­eral when it comes to abor­tion laws. It doesn’t re­strict abor­tions late in the term, nor does it have parental con­sent, no­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­vi­sions, a wait­ing pe­riod, or any of the clinic safety re­stric­tions that other states have im­posed in re­cent years.

Mrs. Shaver said it’s called the Wild West of abor­tion, and she said that’s why Dr. Cur­tis has set up in New Mex­ico — and why he draws from so many other states.

Asked why New Mex­ico was dif­fer­ent, Mi­caela Ca­dena, pol­icy di­rec­tor for Young Women United in Al­bu­querque, said she views New Mex­ico as the con­stant and said it’s other states that have changed by adding abor­tion re­stric­tions.

“It’s some­thing about ev­ery­where else in that those with an agenda have been able to re­strict a woman’s ac­cess to health care de­ci­sions,” she said.

Un­charted ter­ri­tory

Both sides said it’s un­clear how voter turnout will go and whether ei­ther side has an ad­van­tage in a spe­cial elec­tion like this one — par­tic­u­larly with no other big race on the bal­lot.

Early-vot­ing turnout was run­ning high.

“You look at our his­tory and there’s noth­ing like it. There’s noth­ing out­side of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that has this much in­ter­est,” said Ju­lianna Koob of Planned Par­ent­hood New Mex­ico. “This path that we’re go­ing down is dan­ger­ous on a num­ber of fronts and could hap­pen any­where in the coun­try.”

Ini­tial polling ap­peared to show the pro-life side win­ning, ac­cord­ing to an Al­bu­querque Jour­nal sur­vey in Septem­ber.

But a poll taken late last week spon­sored by a blog, New Mex­ico Pol­i­tics with Joe Mon­a­han, showed op­po­nents of the ref­er­en­dum win­ning 53 per­cent to 41 per­cent.

“The tide is not ben­e­fit­ing the pro­life move­ment as we near Elec­tion Day,” poll­ster Bruce Don­isthorpe told the blog, adding that pro-choice vot­ers prob­a­bly have won the early vot­ing and pro-life folks will have to make up ground Tues­day. “Those in fa­vor of the ban are go­ing to have to go out­side the pool of reg­u­lar, likely vot­ers, to win this race and they don’t have a lot of time.”

It’s un­clear ex­actly how many doc­tors in Al­bu­querque would be af­fected by the ban.

Mrs. Shaver said she be­lieved that in ad­di­tion to South­west­ern Women’s Op­tions, the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Center for Re­pro­duc­tive Health, which ad­ver­tises abor­tions up to 22 weeks, would have to change its prac­tice.

But that de­pends on how preg­nan­cies are mea­sured.

The Al­bu­querque ini­tia­tive sets the ban at 20 weeks from con­cep­tion, but preg­nan­cies of­ten are mea­sured by ges­ta­tional age, or the first day of a woman’s last pe­riod, which is usu­ally about two weeks be­fore con­cep­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Char­lotte Lozier In­sti­tute, most states that have en­acted bans mea­sure from fer­til­iza­tion but sev­eral do mea­sure ges­ta­tional age.

The women’s groups in Al­bu­querque say they have made head­way with vot­ers by ques­tion­ing the way the ref­er­en­dum is writ­ten: It doesn’t in­clude ex­cep­tions for rape or in­cest, and they said ques­tions about the 20-week time­line also have trou­bled some vot­ers.

The UNM Center didn’t re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment about whether it would be af­fected.

South­west­ern Women’s Op­tions — the chief tar­get of the ref­er­en­dum — re­ferred calls to the state Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

Twenty-week abor­tion bans en­acted by state leg­is­la­tures are be­ing tested in courts, where the re­sults have been mixed. A ver­sion of the ban passed the U.S. House this year and has been in­tro­duced in the Se­nate, but there is lit­tle chance the Demo­crat-led cham­ber will bring it to the floor.

The sci­ence also is con­tested. A grow­ing amount of lit­er­a­ture says fe­tuses may feel pain at 20 weeks, and pro-life ad­vo­cates say that’s enough rea­son to ex­tend pro­tec­tions to that level.

Pro-choice ad­vo­cates say most sci­ence points to later in the preg­nancy be­fore a fe­tus could feel pain, and doc­tors say even if they can feel pain, there are ways to mit­i­gate it dur­ing an abor­tion — in­clud­ing with anes­the­sia.

Pro- choice ad­vo­cates also say women seek­ing abor­tions that late in preg­nancy are usu­ally the ones in cri­sis — they have dis­cov­ered a se­vere ab­nor­mal­ity or have some other com­pli­ca­tion that has pushed them to what all sides ac­knowl­edge is a wrench­ing de­ci­sion.

“This is the last place the gov­ern­ment should be,” Ms. Koob said.


STEP­PING IN: Rep. Paul Ryan heads to the podium in Al­toona, Iowa, to help cel­e­brate Gov. Terry E. Branstad’s birth­day and pos­si­bly to test the waters in the state that holds the na­tion’s first pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­test.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.