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Monday May 4th, 2015 2:02AM

Albuquerque voters reject late-term abortion ban; Texas law to remain for now

By The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- In a closely watched, first-of-its kind municipal election, voters in New Mexico's largest city have soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions. Meanwhile, a third of Texas' abortion clinics will stay closed after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in an ongoing legal dispute over a tough new law.

Voters on Tuesday rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses.

A coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood, called the results a huge victory for Albuquerque women and families.

"Albuquerque families sent a powerful message today-they do not want the government interfering in their private medical decisions," Micaela Cadena with the Respect ABQ Women campaign said in a statement. "Dangerous, unconstitutional laws like the one we rejected today have no place in Albuquerque, no place in New Mexico, no place anywhere in our nation."

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said, "We hope today's resounding defeat of this abortion ban sends a clear message to the extreme forces around the country now trying to impose their agenda on cities around this country. "

Activists on both sides of the issue said it was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter, which usually is debated at the state and federal level. Abortion opponents had hoped that a victory in Albuquerque would create momentum in their long-running fight to ban abortion.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of the New York-based Priests for Life, said Tuesday night that anti-abortion activists should not be discouraged.

"It is a brilliant strategy and we will see to it that this effort is introduced in other cities and states," he said in a statement. "The fact is, of course, that children have in fact been saved through this effort, simply because we have raised the issue of fetal pain, which does not even cross the minds of many abortionists."

Much of the campaign focused on the debate over when and whether fetuses can feel pain.

Albuquerque became the focus of the latest anti-abortion campaign because it is home to Southwestern Women's Options, one of just a handful of clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions. The proposal would have banned abortions after 20 weeks except to save the mother's life.

A leader of the initiative, Tara Shaver, said her group gathered signatures to put the issue to voters after failing to make headway in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Asked if other cities with late-term abortion clinics might be targeted in the future, Shaver said, "We are encouraging people to see what can be done at the city level. ... We are starting to get calls from people asking us how to do what we have done."

Police were stationed near polling places Tuesday as protesters from both sides tried to persuade voters who were lining up before the polls closed. One school reported an hour wait.

Michelle Halfacre said she cast her ballot in favor of the proposal, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks except to save the mother's life.

"I had an abortion when I was young, and I regret it," Halfacre said. "I don't believe in it."

But Jonathan Cottrell, a crisis hotline volunteer, said he voted against the proposal because he believes it marks the beginning of a "slippery slope to ban abortion in general."

"I feel that women have the right to choose what to do to their body," Cottrell said.

TEXAS LAW

A third of Texas' abortion clinics will stay closed after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in an ongoing legal dispute over a tough new law that Planned Parenthood claims unconstitutionally restricts women's rights.

At least 12 Texas abortion clinics have been closed since October, after a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to take effect.

No more than 20 clinics were able to meet the new standard, and some women must travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion. All of the facilities that remain open are in metropolitan areas, with none in the Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico.

The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday isn't the final say on the restriction. But it means that the law will remain in effect while Planned Parenthood's lawsuit challenging it continues. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals plans to have a hearing in January on the lawsuit.

Texas is the nation's second-most populous state, and an average of 80,000 abortions are performed there each year.

The Supreme Court's decision came in an appeal of a decision from a 5th Circuit panel that said Texas could enforce the law at least until the panel can hold a hearing in January. The 5th Circuit's ruling came after U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked the provision, saying it served no medical purpose and created an illegal barrier for women seeking an abortion.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a sharply divided 5-4 opinion that abortion clinics had failed to prove that the 5th Circuit acted improperly. Writing for the minority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the better course would have been to block the law at least until the three-judge appeals panel issued its final ruling because some women will be unable to obtain abortions.

The five justices and three appeals court judges who sided with Texas are all Republican appointees. The four dissenting justices are Democratic appointees. Yeakel, who initially blocked the provision, is a Republican appointee.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry praised the Supreme Court action.

"This is good news both for the unborn and for the women of Texas, who are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions. As always, Texas will continue doing everything we can to protect the culture of life in our state," Perry said.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the groups will continue the legal fight.

"This law is blocking women in Texas from getting a safe and legal medical procedure that has been their constitutionally protected right for 40 years. This is outrageous and unacceptable - and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women's health. Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your ZIP code," Richards said.

The Texas law on admitting privileges was part of a package of abortion restrictions that the GOP-controlled Legislature passed over the summer. The restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation, gained notoriety when Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against them in June.

Although several conservative states in recent months have approved broad abortion limits, the Texas ones were particularly divisive because of the number of clinics affected and the distance some women would have to travel to get an abortion.

The other states that are enforcing laws on admitting privileges are Tennessee and Utah. Courts have temporarily halted similar laws in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin.


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