ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A closely watched, first-of-its-kind proposal to ban late-term abortions in New Mexico's largest city appeared headed toward defeat.
Opponents of the referendum to ban most abortions after 20 weeks were claiming victory after results from 50,000 early and absentee ballots, plus 14,000 of the more than 36,000 votes cast Tuesday, showed 55 percent of the votes were against the proposal.
"Today, Albuquerque voters have rejected a measure that would have compromised women's health and safety and stripped them of their ability to make complicated, personal, and often very difficult medical decisions," Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
"But in spite of this victory, this vote illustrates the very real threat that essential women's health care continues to face from those who seek to make it illegal, indifferent to the devastating consequences that women will suffer
The municipal election was being closely watched as a possible new front in the abortion wars, which have traditionally been waged at the federal and state levels.
The vote capped an emotional and graphic campaign that drew national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising, pictures of abortion victims and one protest comparing abortion to the Holocaust.
Police were stationed near polling places around the city 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.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President America Ilyse Hogue said this is the first municipal ballot on abortion that she knows of, and her group was watching the election closely.
A legal challenge was expected if the referendum passed. Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, has said he believes the measure is unconstitutional.
The issue was put to voters after former Operation Rescue interns and anti-abortion "missionaries" Tara and Bud Shaver moved here three years ago to target Southwestern Women's Options, one of a handful of clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.
Tara Shaver said her group, Project Defending Life, gathered signatures to get the measure on the city ballot 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."