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The Week in Abortion
9.11.23 - 9.15.23
There was lots going on in Ballot Measure Updates this week, if you need a refresher—with the best demonstration of The GOP’s Ballot Measure Strategy happening in Ohio and Michigan. Americans are paying close attention to how ballot measures are being used to restore abortion rights, which leads into How Post-Roe Anger Could Bolster Democracy and the resulting Republican Panic. I give you some national news updates in In the Nation; and there’s some rare good news in Lawsuit Updates this week. Not so much in Anti-Choice Extremism. Finally, some very unsurprising but important data in Stats & Studies.
Ballot Measure Updates
Never in my life did I think I’d be writing so much about ballot measures, but here we are! As the Florida Supreme Court considers a challenge against the state’s 15-week abortion ban—a decision that will impact whether or not a newer 6-week ban goes into effect—pro-choice activists are well on their way to collecting the nearly 900,000 signatures they need to get abortion rights on the ballot.
But as I reported on Friday, the fear is that the longer it takes Floridians Protecting Freedom to get all those signatures, the more time Republicans have to add additional restrictions to the ballot measure process. We know the lengths Republicans will go to in order to stop voters from having a say on abortion—we’ve seen in happen in Ohio and Missouri. So definitely something to keep an eye on. The good news is that while Florida requires 60% of the vote to pass a ballot measure, 75% of voters in the state oppose the law (including 60% of Republicans).
A few things happening with Missouri’s pro-choice ballot measure this week: a judge heard arguments about the false and inflammatory ballot summary drafted by Republicans. Lawmakers hope that lying about what the proposed amendment would actually do will break abortion rights’ winning streak with ballot measures. Also in the state, two GOP lawmakers and an anti-abortion activist filed a lawsuit seeking to drastically raise the cost estimate for the measure from $51,000 to millions of dollars.
If that strategy sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because the Missouri Supreme Court had to force Attorney General Andrew Bailey to sign off on the cost estimate after he delayed doing so for months—instead arguing that restoring abortion rights would cost Missouri billions of dollars. Since Bailey was unsuccessful, conservatives are trying again with this lawsuit. The point, of course, is to try to delay activists’ efforts to collect signatures and get the amendment in front of voters.
Also this week, a coalition of Nevada abortion rights groups filed a petition with the secretary of state’s office to get a pro-choice amendment on the 2024 ballot. You can read the full text of the amendment here. Nevada doesn’t have an abortion ban, but we’ve been seeing multiple pro-choice states working to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions to ensure as many protections as possible. Colorado, for example, is also trying to pass a pro-choice ballot measure even though the state has some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country. The hope there is to offer further protections and to repeal the ban on public funds being used for abortion care.
The GOP’s Ballot Measure Strategy
Something to pay attention to: What’s happening in Ohio and Michigan, and how Republicans are using the latter state to scare voters in the former. I wrote a bit this week about how anti-abortion activists are pointing to Michigan—where voters recently enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution—as a ‘warning’ for what could happen in Ohio. Their focus? You guessed it! Parental rights.
Anti-abortion groups and Republican politicians ramped up their messaging this week against the Ohio ballot measure—claiming that when Michigan passed a similar measure, Democrats began to erode parental rights around abortion. The truth is actually that Michigan Democrats have avoided repealing parental consent laws in the state for fear that conservatives would make this exact claim and endanger pro-choice measures in other states. But because Republicans don’t give a shit about the truth, they’re rolling with that talking point regardless.
That’s why I pointed out a few times this week that perhaps it’s not the best idea to frame our policies around the fear of anti-choice attacks: they’re going to say whatever they want anyway, no matter what the truth is. So we might as well fight for what we actually want. Especially considering that Americans are on our side when it comes to abortion rights! So much so that we’re seeing some anger pop up in states that people normally think of as anti-abortion. (As you’ll see in the next section.)
How Post-Roe Anger Could Bolster Democracy
As Americans watch the ballot measure fights in states like Ohio and Missouri, those in states without ballot initiative processes are starting to wonder why they can’t vote directly on the issue. We’ve seen some signs in both Louisiana and Mississippi that citizens are a bit pissed off that other people can have a direct say on abortion, but they can’t.
After a Louisiana columnist wrote about readers contacting her about wanting a ballot measure on abortion rights, gubernatorial candidates were asked this week during a debate if they’d support changing the state’s rules to allow such a thing. The only candidate who said they want voters to have a say on abortion rights was Democrat Shawn Wilson.
In Mississippi this week, we saw more indications that Republicans are worried about voters being upset over a lack of ballot measures. The Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Ty Pinkins, called out incumbent Michael Watson and other Republicans, saying they “stripped away our ballot initiative process, completely eliminating our right to take issues directly to voters.” Earlier this year, Mississippi legislators were taking steps to reinstate the initiative process—but with the specific caveat that ballot measures could not be used to restore abortion rights. In response to Pinkins’ comments, Watson is now suddenly claiming that the state should revive the initiative process. But, of course, only if the threshold for passing a measure is “a little bit higher.”
While I’m not holding my breath for either of these states to allow ballot measures, it’s a terrific sign that Republicans are being forced to talk about it. Because it’s just another indication of how scared they are about abortion and voters’ post-Roe fury. Which leads us to our next section…
As we close in on 2024, the GOP’s desperation is really starting to show. Without a firm strategy on abortion, Republicans are just be throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. They’ve even been considering doing away with the term ‘pro-life’ altogether!
Conservatives’ fears are well-founded: a new Reuters/Ipsos poll this week reported that one in three Republicans believe that Democrats’ stance on abortion is the best approach on the issue, and that Independents prefer Democrats over Republicans on abortion rights by more than two to one. The poll also showed just how motivated Democrats are because of abortion right now: 86% rated abortion rights as important to how they will vote, and one in six said it was the most important issue to them, or the only issue they really cared about.
Until Republicans sort out the best way forward, most state-level candidates are simply trying to avoid talking about abortion—or are playing down their anti-abortion extremism (without actually softening on the issue, of course). In Virginia, for example, Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant claimed on her campaign website this week that a 15-week abortion ban is “not a ban, but legislation that reflects compassionate common sense.” I guess she got the memo about not using ‘ban’!
This aligns with what we saw last week from other Republicans running for re-election, and a report from The Hill this week that the National Republican Senatorial Committee “is encouraging Republicans to clearly state their opposition to a national abortion ban and support for reasonable limits on late-term abortions when babies can feel pain with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.” In other words, support a national ban, but say that you don’t.
The other Republican tactic we were clued into this week was how they want female politicians to carry their anti-abortion messaging. Apparently the same poll about the label ‘pro-life’ also showed that voters preferred anti-abortion messaging coming from Republican women. That’s why we’re seeing so much more talk about Nikki Haley, for example, and why Donald Trump is now making noise about putting a woman on the ticket.
Conservatives believe that they can trick voters by making women their messengers. That’s why it’s imperative that we’re holding mainstream media accountable when they try to make female candidates, like Haley, seem a lot more moderate than they actually are. ABC News this week, for example, reported that Haley doesn’t support a 15-week national ban, even though she’s come out for exactly that multiple times!
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In the Nation
Republicans’ attempts to insert anti-abortion language into the agriculture spending bill massively backfired: POLITICO reported that GOP leaders thought that putting in the language would help them, but it only “helped to seal the demise of what is usually among the easiest appropriations bills for Congress to pass, drawing fierce and rare pushback from more than a dozen moderate Republicans.”
The Biden Administration and Danco Laboratories asked the Supreme Court to hear cases on mifepristone access, a move that Chris Geidner at Law Dork writes “make[s] it increasingly likely both that the justices will hear the case and that a ruling in the case would come by June 2024.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold-up of hundreds of military nominations and promotions in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy continued on. But the Biden Administration shows no sign of giving in: This week, Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said, “we are not changing our policy.”
In Wisconsin, where a legal challenge against the state’s 1849 abortion ban is making its way through the courts, providers at Planned Parenthood decided that they’re going to resume abortion care starting tomorrow—even though the law has yet to be repealed. It’s a terrific move, and it’s clear the group feels that they’re legally protected. Back in in July, a judge ruled that the law isn’t actually an abortion ban at all, but “a feticide statute only”—meaning it only applies to an attack on a pregnant person that ends the pregnancy, and not abortion. As I wrote this week, it also helps Planned Parenthood’s case that Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is pro-choice, and that pro-choice judge Janet Protasiewicz just took her seat on the state Supreme Court.
Doctors in South Carolina are suing over the definition of “fetal heartbeat” in the state ban. Right now doctors can only provide abortions up until about 6 weeks—even though isn’t even a heart, let alone a heartbeat, that early in pregnancy. And so providers are now asking the state Supreme Court to allow abortion until the 9th week of pregnancy, because that’s when most of the primary parts of the eventual heart have formed. While I wish that we weren’t in a position to be fighting for such an incremental change, a representative from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic made the point this week that the difference between a 6 week ban and a 9 week ban is the difference between having to turning away half of their patients or 90% of them.
In Nebraska, where Planned Parenthood and ACLU Nebraska are suing over the abortion ban and anti-trans law—correctly pointing out that it violates the state constitution’s single-subject rule—the state Supreme Court ruled this week that the law can remain in effect while the case is heard. (The two groups had asked for an injunction.)
And finally, in the wake of winning their suit against Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed three more complaints in Idaho, Tennessee and Oklahoma on behalf of women with dangerous pregnancy complications who were denied vital health care. You can hear from some of the women about their experiences here and here. Their stories are, as expected, nightmarish.
Speaking of anti-abortion nightmares: Despite Republicans’ fear over abortion rights, they’re not doing a very good job of hiding their extremism. It was just last week that conservatives were openly discussing how to limit women’s right to get out-of-state abortion care, for example. And while some lawmakers try to downplay just how anti-abortion they are, others—like Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron—are doing no such thing.
As I reported this week, Cameron pledged to criminalize birth control in a 2023 questionnaire from Northern Kentucky Right to Life. In the form, Cameron affirmed that he would codify personhood from the moment of fertilization, support legislation that prohibits state funding for abortion, and criminalize anyone who provides abortion care or even pays for an abortion. But here’s the thing: in the questionnaire, Northern Kentucky Right to Life defines abortion to include “the so-called ‘morning after pill,’ Norplant, Depo Provera, or the so-called ‘standard birth control pill.’”
I warned about this exact move in a column last month—that the anti-choice movement and conservatives are trying to redefine abortion to include contraception:
The other trend I flagged this week was the way that conservative media and anti-abortion activists are glorifying women dying in pregnancy. I’m seeing a massive uptick in ‘feel good’ stories about women who refused medical treatment like chemotherapy because they were pregnant. The idea is to valorize women who die so their fetus can live—because Republicans know that post-Roe maternal death rates are going to skyrocket, and they want to make that as palatable as possible. Pretty fucking dark.
Stats & Studies
I’ll leave you with a bit of research from this week that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: New polling shows that abortion bans are leading American women to decide against having children altogether. The data found that 34% of women aged 18-39 reported that they or someone they know decided not to get pregnant over fears of being able to manage a pregnancy-related medical emergency, and that more than a third of young people said that either they or someone they know has “faced constraints” when trying to manage a pregnancy-related emergency.
What’s especially notable is that the results were the same whether or not women lived in a state with an abortion ban. Lauren Leader, CEO of All In Together, whose organization commissioned the polling, said, “The Dobbs decision, it seems, has fundamentally altered how people feel about having families and the calculus for getting pregnant.” Which…makes sense!