ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three years ago, anti-abortion “missionaries” Tara and Bud Shaver left Operation Rescue’s base in Kansas with one target: a clinic that abortion opponents say has turned this southwestern city into the late-term abortion capital of America.
But after a loss at the medical board and making little headway in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, their group, Project Defending Life, gathered enough signatures to place a late-term abortion ban on the municipal ballot.
It is believed to be the first such referendum of its kind in the country and is being watched as a possible new front for activism in the abortion wars that have typically been waged at the federal and state levels.
On Tuesday, Albuquerque voters will decide whether to ban abortions after 20 weeks following an emotional and graphic campaign.
There were protests by “abortion holocaust” survivors at the city’s holocaust museum and a truck with pictures of aborted fetuses with torn off limbs that was used as a rolling billboard outside early polling places. Hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio ads have also brought out more early voters as the recent mayoral elections.
One man yelling “abortion” was dragged away by a group of veterans after interrupting Gov. Susana Martinez’s speech Monday at the city’s Veterans War Memorial.
The outcome is anyone’s guess in a state where abortion has traditionally been a non-issue.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President America Ilyse Hogue said it is the first municipal ballot on abortion that she knows of, and her group is watching the election closely. “I am concerned every single time these extreme ideologues seek to roll back what we believe is settled law in terms of a woman being able to make decisions about her health,” Hogue said.
National organizations on both sides have descended on Albuquerque. Among their key targets are Catholics and Hispanics.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe is urging Albuquerque parishioners to vote for the ban on late-term abortions, which does not include any exceptions for things like rape, fetal anomalies or threats to the mother’s life. But the national group Catholics for Choice is working to counter that message, both in advertisements and on the ground.
Shaver’s group, Project Defending Life, has close ties to Operation Rescue and its national network. It has brought in volunteers from around the country to walk districts, lead prayers and help with outreach to churches. It has also employed the tactics Operation Rescue is well-known for.
“Quite frankly I think they are giving misleading and biased information both on the ballot and in the graphic stuff they are using. It is really disrespectful to the voters. … It doesn’t reflect the intelligence of the Albuquerque voters,” said Julianna Koob of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, which is part of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Woman Voters that are campaigning against the measure.