Anti-Choicers Test a New Strategy: Eliminate Abortion at the City Level

What Women Really Think
Nov. 19 2013 2:54 PM

Anti-Choicers Test a New Strategy: Eliminate Abortion at the City Level

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Anti-abortion activists are testing out a new strategy in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Photo by catwalker/Shutterstock

Tuesday, voters in Albuquerque, N.M., are voting on a brand-new attempt to restrict women's access to abortion, a citywide ban on the procedure after 20 weeks. This is new because attacks on abortion access have previously been conducted at the national or state level, but anti-choicers have singled out the city of Albuquerque to test a municipal strategy for one simple reason: Two clinics there perform abortions after 20 weeks. Southwestern Women's Options, which was featured in the movie After Tiller, provides elective abortion until 28 weeks and abortions for health reasons after that. The University of New Mexico Center for Reproductive Health provides elective abortion until 22 weeks.

The strategy of floating a 20-week ban on the municipal level is alarming, because if it works, it could encourage a rapid expansion of extremely localized targeting of abortion access. Abortion clinics are few and far between in many parts of the country, so all it would take for anti-choicers to start shutting them down would be to begin passing the kind of red-tape regulations that have been effective on the state level. (Indeed, anti-choicers in Wichita, Kan., have experimented with trying to exploit zoning laws to shut down the local clinic, though to no avail so far.) Municipal campaigns are a perfect way to quietly eliminate abortion access in the country. It's hard enough for the national media to keep up with all the state-level attacks.

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In addition, citywide campaigns are easy to win. You don't need many resources to organize and advertise at the city level, especially in smaller cities. In addition, voter turnout for these kinds of localized ballot initiatives is notoriously low. That means church-based organizers have a perfect opportunity to rally their people and turn them out at the polls, knowing full well that pro-choice forces don't have similar institutions on a local level to help get out the vote. (Pro-choicers, with organizations like Planned Parenthood, definitely counter, but it's hard to compete with community-based churches that already have a foothold in town.) While there will have to be some variation in how these laws are passed—not all states are like New Mexico, where city laws sometimes supersede state ones—it's possible to see how this organizing strategy could be adapted to target city laws and health departments around the country. 

Here is what it comes down to: There are fewer that 2,000 abortion providers in the country. That's a sufficiently low number to make targeting them on the municipal level a viable strategy for the anti-choice movement. If this vote succeeds, get ready for more.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.