In a closely watched, first-of-its-kind municipal election, voters in New Mexico's largest city have defeated a proposed ban on late-term abortions.
Voters in Albuquerque on Tuesday rejected the measure 55 to 45 percent, following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses.
A coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood, called the results a huge victory for Albuquerque women and families.
"Albuquerque families sent a powerful message today — they do not want the government interfering in their private medical decisions," Micaela Cadena, of the Respect ABQ Women campaign, said in a statement.
"Dangerous, unconstitutional laws like the one we rejected today have no place in Albuquerque, no place in New Mexico, no place anywhere in our nation," she added.
Activists on both sides of the issue said it was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter, which is usually debated at the state and federal levels. Abortion opponents had hoped that a victory in Albuquerque would create momentum in their long-running fight to ban late-term terminations.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of the New York-based Priests for Life, said Tuesday night that anti-abortion activists should not be discouraged.
"It is a brilliant strategy, and we will see to it that this effort is introduced in other cities and states," he said in a statement.
"The fact is, of course, that children have in fact been saved through this effort, simply because we have raised the issue of fetal pain, which does not even cross the minds of many abortionists."
Much of the campaign focused on the debate over when and whether fetuses can feel pain.
Albuquerque became the focus of the latest anti-abortion campaign because it is home to Southwestern Women's Options, one of just a handful of clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.
Abortion rights advocates feared that the referendum could serve as another means to chip away at the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which opened legal avenues for abortion to women nationwide.
"This is a new tactic that's being used by people who really want the government to be involved in a place that it shouldn't be involved," said Julianna Koob, a legislative advocate with Planned Parenthood, prior to the results of the ballot.
A leader of the initiative to ban late-term abortions, Tara Shaver, said her group gathered signatures to put the issue to voters after failing to make headway in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Asked if other cities with late-term abortion clinics might be targeted in the future, Shaver said, "We are encouraging people to see what can be done at the city level ... We are starting to get calls from people asking us how to do what we have done."
Police were stationed near polling places Tuesday as protesters from both sides tried to persuade voters who were lining up before the polls closed. One school reported an hour's wait.
Michelle Halfacre said she cast her ballot in favor of the proposal, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks except to save the mother's life.
"I had an abortion when I was young, and I regret it," Halfacre said. "I don't believe in it."
But Jonathan Cottrell, a crisis hotline volunteer, said he voted against the proposal because he believes it marks the beginning of a "slippery slope to ban abortion in general."
"I feel that women have the right to choose what to do to their body," Cottrell said.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press