Reproductive rights activists behind the campaign against the proposed Albuquerque 20-week abortion ban credit a grassroots effort to educate and turn out voters for the decisive victory. Nearly 87,000 people voted in the election, and just over 48,000, or 55 percent, voted against the measure.
The organizers chose not to frame their efforts against the ban as an attack on abortion access; rather, they focused on individual women’s and families’ personal stories. “From day one we knew this campaign had to reflect our community’s shared experiences—the experiences that women share on a daily basis,” Adriann Barboa, a Respect ABQ Women steering committee member and Field Director for Strong Families New Mexico, told Rewire. “We knew that the campaign wouldn’t be successful focusing on a polarizing debate about abortion, but it would be if it focused on real women’s stories.”
A diverse coalition of organizations formed Respect ABQ Women to oppose the ordinance. The coalition was led by women of color organizations including Young Women United, Strong Families New Mexico and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health but also included Planned Parenthood of New Mexico,
religious-affiliated organizations such as the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Catholic for Choice, and professional medical organizations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Hundreds of volunteers, not just from Albuquerque but from around the country, took part in the effort to defeat the proposed ordinance. The on-the-ground effort focused both on getting people to the polls and reaching voters on a more personal level. “We had meaningful conversations at every door and at every phone bank,” said Barboa. “This was about people’s personal decisions about what is right for their families. And this allowed us to have this much needed conversation about abortion.”
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Anti-choice groups where critical of the results of the vote, noting that outside organizations outspent supporters of the ordinance. Operation Rescue, an anti-choice organization that was the driving force behind the push to place the measure on the ballot, released a statement saying that the opposition to the ordinance “outspent the pro-life campaigns by a margin of 4 to 1.”
According to campaign finance records obtained by Ballotpedia, as of November 15 Respect ABQ Women had spent some $396,000 (of $704,000 raised), while anti-choice groups had spent roughly $136,000 (of nearly $177,000 raised).
While acknowledging that the effort did receive support from national pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Barboa emphasized
that outside support was provided on the condition that local activists would lead and control the campaign . “We did have support from national organizations,” said Barboa. “But we also had a very strong grassroots campaign. We had so many volunteers that spent time going door-to-door to reach out to our community.”
Dolores Huerta, famed labor organizer and co-founder of United Farm Workers, took part in the effort to reach out to voters. She told Rewire that she came to Albuquerque to help campaign against the “very insidious measure” because women should be able to decide what is right for themselves and their families. “We hope that people will understand that this is an attack on women and women’s health and a family’s right to decide what is right for themselves,” she said.
Huerta also spoke about the importance of having access to reproductive health care. “If women cannot afford to terminate a pregnancy, their lives are put in danger,” said Huerta. She noted that if women are forced to carry pregnancies to term in cases when the fetus will likely not survive, families could face tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
From the outset, the campaign was largely led by Albuquerque women, a factor which activists say was key to the success of the campaign. “We as women are constantly told that we don’t have a voice,” Rachael Maestas, a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at the University of New Mexico, told Rewire. “We do have a voice. The reason so many women got involved is because it resonated with a lot of people. The idea that this could be our future motivated women to take action.”
Barboa said that when connecting with voters, volunteers often heard the same stories about women having to make difficult decisions. But, Barboa said, “we shouldn’t have to share our stories. We should be trusted and respected to make our own decisions.”
In the end, Barboa said the election wasn’t about money or outside influence, but about women standing up and speaking out. “Women of New Mexico are strong,” said Barboa. “We’ve been making tough decisions for a long time.”