State ballot measures are the new abortion battlefield

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State ballot measures are becoming the new battleground over abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion-rights advocates are buzzing after Kansas voters earlier this month rejected an attempt to remove abortion protections from the state constitution, the first statewide vote on abortion since the court’s decision in June.

Polls show a majority of Americans support some form of abortion access, and reproductive rights advocates are eager to take the issue directly to voters.

“When abortion rights are at stake, people stand up and vote to protect it,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group.

An Ipsos poll released Aug. 10 found that seven in 10 Americans, regardless of party affiliation, would support their state using a ballot measure to decide abortion rights at the state level.

In such a hypothetical statewide ballot measure, 54 percent said they would vote to make abortion legal.

In Kansas, nearly 60 percent voted against the constitutional amendment, surprising anti-abortion activists who had anticipated a victory in the state in which former President Trump outscored President Biden by nearly 20 percentage points in the election. 2020.

Up next in November are votes in Kentucky, Michigan, California, Vermont and Montana, the most abortion-related ballot initiatives ever held in a single year.

Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, a progressive group that helps organize ballot measures, said the growing polarization of state and federal politics is leaving voters with no other options to make their voices heard.

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“Ballot measures are not just a tool in the toolbox. I think they will be an increasingly central avenue for moving these conversations forward in the states and not just in the abstract…but in policymaking,” Hall said.

Ballot measures are expensive and challenging undertakings, and Hall said they are typically a tool of last resort.

But now, he said, there is a huge disconnect between extreme politicians and voters.

“That opens up a space for ballot measures to not just be an option, but often the only option, where there is no way to get intermediate common sense policies through the usual mechanisms of legislation,” Hall said.

Kentucky voters will vote for a measure that is most similar to the one in Kansas. Vermont, California and Michigan are moving to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, while Montana would mandate health care for children “born alive” after an abortion.

According to Nash, the anti-abortion movement had a number of successful ballot initiatives in recent years.

In 2020, Louisiana voted to amend the state constitution so that there were no guarantees of protection against abortion. Alabama and West Virginia passed similar constitutional amendments in 2018, and Tennessee did so in 2014.

To the contrary, this is the first time abortion groups have sponsored state ballot measures since 1992. According to Ballotpedia data, 85 percent of abortion-related measures on state ballots have been proposed by anti-abortion groups.

Still, groups on both sides of the issue pointed out that you can only get so much from Kansas.

In a statement after the Kansas ballot measure failed, Kentucky Right to Life Executive Director Addia Wuchner made it clear that “we’re not in Kansas!”

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Wuchner said the wording of the amendments is similar, but noted that the Kentucky amendment is simpler. The state also already has a near total ban on abortion.

“The wording of Kentucky Amendment 2 is very clear and concise. It is probably too early to fully analyze the reason for the Kansas ballot result. The wording on the Kansas ballot was longer than our statement, and that may have been a factor,” Wuchner said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in June to overturn Roe v. Wade is giving rise to a patchwork of state laws across the country, some of which are the subject of ever-changing litigation.

“The lack of legal clarity around abortion in Michigan has already caused too much confusion for women who deserve certainty about their health care,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) said in a statement Friday, after a judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban.

“Once, in the course of a single day, abortion was legal in the morning, illegal at lunch, and legal at night. We can’t have this kind of whiplash on something as fundamental as a woman’s right to control her own body,” Whitmer said.

Michigan is one of the next key battleground states, where residents will vote on a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to protect the right to make decisions about reproductive issues like contraception and abortion.

Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said the organization had been working on the ballot initiative since last fall, but the effort took on a new urgency once a draft opinion leaked in May. showing that the Court was going to overrule Roe..

“When the leaked opinion draft came out, we saw an increase in the number of people coming to our campaign who wanted to get involved and help in some way,” Stallworth said.

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The group saw a similar outpouring of support in June once Roe was officially cancelled.

“I think the annulment of Roe v. Wade has really sparked people’s desire to get involved in the process, and this opportunity in November gives them some form of hope that we really can save abortion access in Michigan,” Stallworth said. .

Stallworth said politicians have been unable to repeal the abortion ban, so passing a ballot measure would ensure that abortion protections are not altered in the future.