It has been news nationwide. Because we have a clinic providing abortions after 20 weeks, and because this terrorist operation wanted a municipal election for a court test, our fair city was selected by Operation Rescue as the locus for their latest abortion battlefront. They organized a citizen-petition to put a ban on abortions on a ballot for a vote city-wide. As has been widely reported, it failed. Here is my account of our campaign.
I wrote about the petition drive here. Since then, our community has been organizing and mobilizing. We have been educating voters. Our coalition, RespectABQWomen.org worked daily for months, building momentum before we knew when the issue would be on the ballot. It began as the petition drive, with tacit support of the Mayor and his appointed City Clerk, gained access to the political process through local mega-churches where petition signatures were gathered in record time.
Rules for City elections (previously litigated: ID), run by the City Clerk (appointed) and for county elections (no ID), run by the County Clerk (elected), are different. The City of Albuquerque, a subset of Bernalillo County, has unincorporated areas and communities with their own governments carved out of it. So while this ballot measure was promoted widely, there were areas of the community/voters not allowed to participate (nor petition signatures from these voters counted), because they are not residents of the City. The story of disenfranchisement is also complex, and I will only mention it briefly.
The complexities of democracy are lost on a lot of people. So too the idea that it was not so much about enfranchising voters on a controversial issue as much as the subset: creating an opportunity for anti-abortion litigation from a municipality that was the chief desired outcome of OR. Albuquerque voters were a pawn in this game, and women’s health care needs were the ultimate attempted check-mate.
OR and others arrived in Albuquerque not long after the ballot measure was underway to train young zealots and mobilize them at a variety of locations around the city and county. These locations included the Holocaust Museum, a private residence and clinics. They came with Photoshopped images in tow. The Feminist Majority partnered with the Religious Coalition for Abortion Choice and others, training legal observers in defense of the clinics, to protect women in exercising their health care needs during this time. Because the City has an ordinance protecting private homes from demonstrations, the abortion evangelists took their terrorizing protest to a private residence in the county. (Subsequently, the County passed a similar ordinance.)
Young Women United and others developed a local message that resonated with our community. The message was clear. “Abortion after 20 weeks is a deeply personal matter between a woman, her family, and her doctors. This is not a decision for the government to make. The ballot initiative is misleading. Vote against the measure.”
RespectABQWomen was the umbrella under which other organizations partnered, including Planned Parenthood. These groups of young women formed the backbone of the efforts, and older women, men and families followed their lead. A major campaign of phone-banking, informational demonstrations and house to house canvassing was implemented. National women’s rights and health care rights organizations participated in phone banks. It was a tremendous effort to derail OR’s goal of passing a municipal ordinance for a federal court case (to be funded by Albuquerque taxpayers of course).
Early voting turnout was impressive, and the election turned on voting results from early voting against the ban, 55% to 45% in favor. Talking to voters in person, either on the phone or at their doors turned the tide. People understand late term procedures are rare (1.5% of all abortions) and often involve wrenching decisions over fatal fetal abnormalities. Voters over 60 had lived with the abortion ban prior to Roe vs: Wade and had personal experiences with the difficult circumstances of a tragic pregnancy. In addition, generations of voters who grew up with women’s health care options were clear about the need for women to decide.
I participated in all phases of this defense of women, and it was the most positive campaign in which I have ever been involved. Tuesday I worked as a “representative observer” for RespectABQWomen at the polls. My location was the Albuquerque Museum. Photoshopped images were paraded in front of the museum, the requisite distance from the polls. There were numerous complaints from museum patrons, including adults accompanying busloads of children forced to pass these sick images. The ACLU organized a fantastic group of lawyers to be on-call. Voters felt intimidated by the demonstrators who blocked their way with signs, yelling and “praying.” Thanks to the lawyers, the City Clerk sent security.
This is a longer and more complex story. We were set up to fail in every possible way by the collusion of the City Clerk who provided no early voting sites in half of the City. Voting day locations included mega-churches. University students were denied a voting day location. The Catholic Church opposed us. And yet, we prevailed.
While the inside information may be of interest for Albuquerque citizens, I feel it is important for other communities to appreciate the lessons for next time. Critical information for the next places in the crosshairs of the anti-women movement must be shared. We know messaging needs to reflect the values of the community. Women must lead the effort, young women and women of color are essential. There will be national press and national support. It is expensive. But it is going to remain a pitched battle until we can begin to turn the tide back to women. We must thwart every effort they attempt.
Albuquerque has shown the way. We shut that whole thing down. Other communities can do it, and they will do it too!
(slightly edited from 11/20 post at firedoglake.com)