POLITICS
11/19/2013 10:41 am ET | Updated Nov 19, 2013

Albuquerque Votes On Abortion Ban With National Impact

Lauren S., a married mother of a toddler in a small town in northern New Mexico, was 19 weeks pregnant in October when an ultrasound showed very bad news for her baby. The doctor said his brain was not forming properly and that even if he survived birth, which was unlikely, he would never be able to breathe on his own.

"We would have done anything if we could have kept him," Lauren told The Huffington Post in an interview. "It didn't matter when we thought that he might have health issues that would require tons of brain surgeries, of if he couldn't walk -- we didn't care. We loved him, but he had no chance of living."

Lauren, who withheld her last name for privacy reasons, was also very sick. She had to have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line for most of her pregnancy due to severe nausea and dehydration, and the doctor told her that the birth of the baby would be dangerous for her body because its head had become so enlarged.

She and her husband made the difficult decision to end her pregnancy, but they faced several logistical obstacles that pushed the procedure past the 20th week of pregnancy. She had to travel two hours to the nearest abortion provider in Albuquerque -- her town has one OBGYN and zero abortion clinics -- and she had to find someone to care for her 2-year-old son for several days.

"By that point I was 20 weeks and a few days along," she said. "I was induced on a Thursday, and he was born on a Saturday morning. We spent the whole day with him, holding him, and when I was discharged that night, we drove him to the funeral home to drop him off and say goodbye."

Albuquerque residents are voting Tuesday on a ballot measure that would ban abortions in the city 20 weeks after fertilization based on the disputed idea that fetuses feel pain at that point. The ban makes an exception for situations in which the mother would die without the abortion, but has no exceptions for fetal anomalies discovered late in the pregnancy, for situations in which the mother's health is severely affected by the pregnancy, or for victims of rape or incest.

While the measure is only a municipal ban, not a statewide ban, it would affect women far outside of Albuquerque. The only two providers of abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in New Mexico are located in Albuquerque, and one of those clinics -- Southwestern Women's Options -- is one of only four clinics in the nation that provides abortions after 26 weeks. Neighboring Texas enacted a 20-week ban on abortions earlier this year, so most women across Texas and New Mexico have to drive to Albuquerque for an abortion if a difficult situation arises late into her pregnancy.

"The ban's target is the clinic women depend on to get safe and legal medical care in these difficult circumstances -- cancer late in pregnancy, fetal abnormalities -- women from our state are traveling three, four, five hours to get this care," said Julianna Koob, legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood New Mexico. "So Albuquerque voters have a lot of weight on their shoulders."

National anti-abortion groups, such as the Susan B. Anthony List, have been pouring money into Albuquerque and campaigning there to help the measure pass. It would be the first municipal ban on abortions and would provide momentum for the national 20-week abortion ban, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year and was recently introduced in the Senate.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, addressed the issue of fetal anomalies in a recent op-ed. She said women should still carry the fetus to term.

“Where a lethal fetal anomaly does exist, patients and their families can and should be offered the compassionate, ethical option of perinatal hospice to support them," she wrote. "Studies have shown that carrying a fatally ill child to term rather than performing a late abortion does not result in increased maternal mortality. On the other hand, it brings comfort to parents who can indeed parent their child as long as time permits."

An Albuquerque Journal poll conducted in September showed that 54 percent of likely voters in the city were planning to support the ballot measure, while 39 percent opposed it.

Lauren said it frustrates her that the people of Albuquerque may not understand that so many women among them and throughout the state are faced with situations in their pregnancies that require them to make extremely difficult choices. "It's not that it could happen in New Mexico -- it does all the time, far more often than people think," she said. "People just don't talk about it. They like to pretend that babies are all made healthy, and everyone could make any choice they wanted. And that's not the case."

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