It’s been a rough year for abortion rights supporters, both in Texas and nationally. Yesterday didn’t start out much better, as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the emergency stay of the injunction against HB2—which means that all of the restrictions imposed by the omnibus abortion bill that passed this summer will remain in effect pending the resolution of the state’s appeal sometime in early 2014.
Things had the potential to take another turn last night for Texans who struggle to access abortion care, as well: Albuquerque, New Mexico voted on a ballot measure that would have banned the procedure after twenty weeks in the city. There’s not a comprehensive, up-to-date list of every clinic nationally that offers abortions after that point in a pregnancy, but after the passage of HB2, the lone clinic in Albuquerque that provides abortions to patients who are late in their second trimester is the closest one for most Texans. (Other options include Illinois and Atlanta.)
This was the first time that abortion after twenty weeks was voted on by ballot measure, and the first time a city took up the idea of a ban on its own—as such, it had both opponents and supporters of the measure watching very closely. Polls have found that a plurality of voters say that they support such a ban, but the notion that restrictions are actually popular was tested last night. By a margin of 55 to 45, voters in Albuquerque rejected the measure, allowing the city’s clinic to continue to provide abortion services to patients well into their second trimester.
For Texans who seek abortions after twenty weeks—especially those who live west of, say, Houston, or south of Dallas—the implications of yesterday’s vote are significant. But there are other things to conclude from the way the vote in Albuquerque shook out, as well.
Supporters of a twenty-week ban, both in Texas and nationally, point to polls that suggest that they’re in the majority of Americans. It’s not a small thing for that majority to be put to a test at the ballot, though, and for it to come up wanting. The measure attracted fervent interest from both sides of the issue—the 87,000 people who turned out to vote yesterday trumped last month’s mayoral election by 17,000 voters—which raises questions about the accuracy of those polls.
The fact that this happened in Albuquerque also calls into question another piece of the conventional wisdom about abortion opponents and supporters. The New York Times reported earlier this month that Texas Republicans looked to persuade Hispanic voters by appealing to them on abortion:
Enrique Marquez, a Republican political consultant, said that when it comes to the question of abortion, Democratic organizations and candidates in Texas were “completely out of sync” with Hispanics, who are predominantly Roman Catholic. Mr. Marquez added that if Texas Republicans discussed their anti-abortion views and religious beliefs while still placing a priority on the economy, they could have a winning formula in 2014.
Nearly 47% of Albuquerque citizens identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census, which suggests that, if those voters were as opposed to abortion as Marquez told the Times they were, this ballot measure banning an ostensibly unpopular procedure probably wouldn’t have failed by double digits. (Pro-choice activists who are excited to celebrate their first victory in a long time would probably do well to note, meanwhile, that Albuquerque is in a county that awarded President Obama 55% of its vote in 2012, and may not be representative of the entirety of the New Mexico populace.)
Still, it’s an unexpected outcome given the way that abortions after twenty weeks are typically discussed, and given that issues like this have so rarely been placed directly before an electorate. The procedure remains illegal in Texas, but in Albuquerque, voters made their position known—and the implications for Texas could be serious.
(AP Photo/Juan Antonio Labreche)