Albuquerque voters rejected a ballot initiative to ban late-term abortion on Tuesday following a flurry of outside spending from pro-abortion groups.
The city was the first in the nation to put the question of fetal pain abortion limits directly in the hands of voters, leading to an expensive and bitter campaign.
Pro-choice groups, including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Organizing for Action, spent more than $1 million, holding a near-monopoly on television advertising through much of the race. The campaign spending helped late-term abortion supporters swing an early polling deficit.
Respect ABQ Women, the umbrella group representing pro-choice activists, celebrated the 55-45 victory on Tuesday night.
"Albuquerque families sent a powerful message today—they do not want the government interfering in their private medical decisions," spokeswoman Micaela Cadena said in a statement.
Pro-life groups faced long odds in the race. President Barack Obama won Albuquerque by 15 points in 2012 and the city has become a hub for late-term abortions, attracting expectant mothers from across the country. Susan B. Anthony List, a D.C.-based non-profit that coordinated the pro-life campaign, said that the defeat would not deter it from promoting similar legislation at the state and national level.
"Despite being outspent four to one, pro-life grassroots activists were able to educate thousands of citizens about fetal pain and the reality of late abortion," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. "There remains growing national consensus that babies and women should be protected from dangerous late abortions after 20 weeks."
Thirteen states have passed fetal pain bills and the House approved similar legislation this year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., SC) proposed a 20-week ban earlier this month, though it is not expected to advance in the Democratic Senate. Nearly all of the state laws have faced legal challenges. Pro-choice groups vowed to continue fighting them.
"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," Cadena said.
Ban supporters have defended the measures as constitutional and reflective of advances in medicine that have pushed the age of viability as early as 22 weeks.
"These groups spent $1 million fighting a ballot initiative they claimed was unconstitutional—that tells you something about how vulnerable they feel on this," one pro-life operative told the Washington Free Beacon.
The Albuquerque race began in August when grassroots pro-life activists submitted 27,000 signatures to put the ban on the ballot—more than double city requirements for ballot initiatives. They were hindered by low turnout in early voting, as only 16 percent of petition supporters cast early ballot one week before the Tuesday election. Pro-life groups pointed to the early grassroots support as evidence that they still have momentum on their side.
"Polls show Americans are united in opposing this brutal practice and it is time the law reflects our natural recoil from this horror," Dannenfelser said.
National polls show that the majority of Americans think late-term abortions should be illegal. A Gallup poll taken in December 2012 found that 64 percent of Americans oppose second trimester abortions, while 80 percent oppose third trimester abortions.