Abortion rights fight moves to state ballots
The battle for abortion access is moving from courts and legislatures to state ballots.
Why is this important: The effort to codify public support through a referendum illustrates what many experts say is the future of abortion rights in America. They envision a state-by-state battle to keep abortion legal as the conservative Supreme Court majority prepares to scale back or overturn Roe v. Wade.
What we are looking at: Twenty ballot measures bearing on reproductive rights are in the works for this year, according to the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
Four have already qualified for their respective national elections:
- A ballot initiative in Vermont, scheduled for a vote Nov. 8, would enact a state constitutional amendment declaring “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy.”
- In Kansas, where the state Supreme Court has affirmed a constitutional right to abortion, residents will vote in August on an amendment to eliminate that protection.
- In Montana, an election measure set to appear on the November ballot would require medical care for “every child born alive.” It would do so by classifying the fetus as a “legal person”, with “the right to appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment”.
- In Kentucky, residents will vote in November on a measure that would ensure the state constitution “does not guarantee or protect the right to abortion, or require the funding of abortion.”
The big picture: As Oriana Gonzalez of Axios reported, a patchwork of state laws would govern the proceedings should the nation’s highest court ultimately overturn the precedent set by Roe.
- This 1973 decision established the constitutional right to abortion.
Between the lines: Many campaigns to change state constitutions run parallel to efforts to codify or strike down abortion rights in state legislatures or state supreme courts.
- In Michigan, a campaign supported by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU is collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to establish a state right to reproductive freedom.
- Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is preparing to weigh in on separate challenges brought by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and Planned Parenthood seeking a 1931 criminal ban on abortion.
- It could come back into effect if the federal protections provided by Roe v. Wade were eliminated.
What they say : “[Supreme Court] Justice [Anthony] Kennedy’s retirement has prompted action in Vermont, so that these rights in Vermont are protected no matter what happens in Washington, DC,” Eileen Sullivan, director of communications at Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fundsays Axios.
- Nicole Wells Stallworth, Executive Director of Michigan Planned Parenthood Advocatestold Axios, “The ballot initiative seeks to enshrine the right to reproductive freedom more broadly in Michigan’s constitution. It’s much more enduring. The legislature couldn’t just come in and amend the Constitution. “
- Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, told Axios: “It’s about taking power into your own hands and bringing critical issues directly to the people and not waiting for a state legislature. “
The other side: “We view these initiatives as a pushback against militant state courts and a neutralization of state constitutions on the issue,” said Billy Valentine, vice president of political affairs at the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony Listsays Axios.
- “From there, it’s up to the legislator to decide what limits to put in place.”
And after: “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mary Ziegler, law professor at Florida State University College of Law and visiting professor at Harvard Law School.
- “I think there will be a lot more states looking outward, to think about what will happen when people cross state lines to get abortions,” Ziegler told Axios.