This week, voters in Albuquerque defeated a proposed ballot initiative that would have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks. It was the only major abortion-related issue on a ballot this election cycle, but it was a closely-watched campaign for several other reasons, too. The measure would have made Albuquerque the first city in the U.S. to enact a local ban on abortion, shut down one of the only clinics in the entire country that still performs abortion services up to 28 weeks, and ultimately fueled the anti-choice community’s current effort to focus on late-term abortion restrictions.
When the 20-week ban was voted down by a 10 percent margin, reproductive rights groups declared a big victory. And now, abortion opponents are admitting it’s proof that some of their tactics may be backfiring.
Over the last several months, as militant anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue became involved in the effort to pass the proposed 20-week ban, the fight became increasingly contentious. Out-of-state activists traveled to protest in front of Albuquerque’s Holocaust museum, holding graphic images of bloody fetuses and claiming they were survivors of the “abortion holocaust.” On Halloween, some trick-or-treaters received anti-abortion propaganda along with their candy. A truck plastered with graphic images of dismembered full-term babies has been driving around the city, serving as a rolling billboard for the ballot initiative.
At one point, anti-abortion activists even showed up to protest at a doctor’s home because they believed he was an “abortionist.” According to witnesses, the protesters stayed for two hours, chanting “This doctor kills babies” and proclaiming he would go to hell, and his wife and three children were afraid to leave the house.
“The signs, the graphic pictures, they hurt us much more than they helped us,” Elisa Martinez, the executive director of the local group that pushed for the ban, told the New York Times on Wednesday. “Instead of common-sense regulation, it became about extremism.”
Indeed, there were several counter-protests in Albuquerque as residents expressed their objection to these type of tactics.
And cutting back on graphic protests may not be the only area where the anti-choice activists need to adjust. The New York Times reports that the anti-choice campaign in Albuquerque counted on the fact that the large Catholic and Hispanic populations in the city would be open to restricting abortion — but that assumption overlooks the diversity within those communities, which aren’t comprised solely of people who identify as pro-life. This isn’t the first time this has happened. As RH Reality Check’s Jodi Jacobson points out, a growing list of states have found there’s not actually enough support for abortion restrictions when they’re put up for a popular vote. Indeed, the states that are successfully enacting new abortion restrictions are consistently pushing those policies through the legislature without the public’s support.
Not every member of the anti-abortion movement is ready to concede defeat, however. On Tuesday, LifeNews suggested that Albuquerque voters rejected the 20-week ban only because the initiative was worded in a confusing manner that led some people to accidentally cast their ballots against it.