11/15/2013 08:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

City Abortion Bans: Is Your Town Next?

On November 19th citizens of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will vote on the first city-level 20 week abortion ban in the United States. Called the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance," the measure seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape, incest, age of the female, or condition of the fetus. No exceptions at all - "except to save the life of a pregnant woman." Even then, it must be performed in a manner that maximizes survival chances of the fetus, unless that would increase the chances of the woman's death or "irreversible" physical damage. Gee, what a relief.

The ordinance is based on junk science - the contention that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. This notion has been debunked with solid research reported by such organizations as Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Journal of the American Medical Association. But it doesn't matter. The goal is not to save a fetus from pain, but to chip away the time frame that's been legal under Roe v. Wade since 1973.

Many tests that detect birth defects, such as amniocentesis or high-resolution ultrasound, aren't conducted until 18 to 22 weeks. But that doesn't matter either when the endgame is banning all abortions, period. The next rollback will be 16 weeks, then 12, then 4. . . then none. So let's not get sidetracked into specious arguments about development of the thalamus and sub-cortical plate (both discussed at length in the ordinance).

Though the proposed Albuquerque law was drafted by groups from outside New Mexico like Operation Rescue (which also brought in canvassers to get it on the ballot), it's being fought by a conglomerate of local organizations under 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPG the umbrella Respect Albuquerque Women. Whether the coalition can prevail over out-of-state rabble rousers, the local Catholic clergy, a biased home town press, and fundamentalist churches that have taken up the battle is anybody's guess.

Since federal judges have already ruled that similar state-level laws are unconstitutional, if it passes the city is due for a long and expensive slog through the courts. Estimates for legal fees for what amounts to a lost cause run to $600,000. So the harm isn't just to women's medical privacy and the right to make their own decisions - taxpayers will also be on the fiscal hook to defend the handiwork of anti-abortion extremists.

National women's groups and abortion rights activists all over the country are watching the battle closely, because regardless of whether it passes or fails, the Albuquerque ordinance is only a test case. New efforts will pop up in cities and towns nationwide, drawing lessons and tactics from the New Mexico experience.

Will your town be next on the hit list?

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