Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North DakotaOhio and Oklahoma are debating bills this session that would increase filing fees, increase the number of signatures required to be on the ballot, restrict who can collect signatures, mandate a wider geographic distribution of signatures, and raise the voting threshold for pass an amendment from a majority to a super-majority. Although the bills vary in their wording, they would have the same impact: limiting voters’ power to overturn Republican-imposed abortion restrictions, which went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned it. Roe vs Wadand last year.
After seeing abortion rights supporters win all six abortion-related ballot initiative fights in 2022 — including in conservative states such as Kansas and Kentucky — conservatives fear and are rallying to avoid repetition.
“It was a wake-up call that told us we had a ton of work to do,” said Kelsey Pritchard, public affairs director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which plans to spend dozens of million dollars for vote initiative fights on abortion over the next two years. “We are going to be really committed to these electoral measures which are often very radical and go well beyond what deer never done.
In Mississippi, where a court order froze all ballot efforts in 2021, GOP lawmakers are advance legislation this would restore the mechanism but prohibit voters from putting abortion-related measures on the ballot.
“I think this just continues the policy of Mississippi and our state leaders that we’re going to be a pro-life state,” said Mississippi State Rep. Nick Bain, who introduced the bill. law in the House.
But in most states, GOP proposals to tighten restrictions on ballot initiatives do not explicitly target abortion. The push to change the rules began years before the Dobbs decision overturned Roe vs. Wade in June 2022 — spurred by progressive efforts to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage in several red states – though it has reached new heights over the past year as voters and elected officials clash over abortion policies.
Still, some anti-abortion activists fear the tide could backfire, preventing groups from using the tactic to pass their own constitutional amendments by popular vote.
“In Florida, it’s a double-edged sword,” said Andrew Shirvell, the leader of the Florida Voice for the Unborn group which is working to put an anti-abortion measure on the 2024 ballot. this topic because there are a large number of grassroots pro-life advocates who feel that our governor and our legislature have let us down on this issue for too long and want to take matters into their own hands.”
Left-wing interest in using ballot initiatives to protect or expand abortion access exploded following the 2022 midterm elections. Efforts are already underway in Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota to insert language restoring abortion rights into state constitutions, while advocates in several other states consider their options.
The campaign is most advanced in Ohio, where abortion rights advocates began collecting signatures this week. A coalition of anti-abortion groups called Protect Women Ohio formed in response and announced a $5 million ad buy this week to air a 30-second spot suggesting the proposed amendment would strip parents of the right to decide. whether their children should have abortions and other types of health care.
At the same time, some Ohio lawmakers are pushing for a proposal that would raise the voter approval threshold for constitutional amendments by a simple majority to 60%.
In Missouri, where progressive groups have submitted several versions of an abortion rights ballot initiative to state officials for consideration, lawmakers are also weighing proposals to impose a supermajority voting requirement and mandate passage of the measure in more than half of Missouri House districts for it to take effect.
“It’s about making sure everyone has a voice, and that includes Central Missouri as well,” said Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life. “We have known for some time that the threat to legalize abortion has been circulating in various states and will eventually hit Missouri. We have worked hard to prepare for this challenge and we are ready.
In Idaho, lawmakers try to requiring funders of initiative petitions to collect the signatures of 6% of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
“I call these bills ‘death by a thousand cuts,'” said Kelly Hall, executive director of progressive ballot initiative group The Fairness Project. “When you hear about each in isolation, they don’t seem that important. But taken together, they have an exclusionary effect on people’s participation in democracy.
Conservative lawmakers and advocates pushing the rule changes say they reflect their beliefs about how laws should be crafted and aren’t just about abortion – but they’re outspoken about wanting to give back more difficult to enact the type of broad voter protections in California, Michigan and Vermont. enacted last year.
“I didn’t start this because of abortion, but … Planned Parenthood is actively trying to enshrine the lack of protections for unborn children in constitutions,” the North Dakota state senator said. , Janne Myrdal, who leads the state legislature’s Pro-Life Caucus. “You can sit down in California or New York or Washington and throw a dart, attach a few million dollars to it, and you change our constitution.”
THE resolution that Myrdal sponsors, which passed the Senate last month and is awaiting a vote in the House, would require proposed constitutional amendments to pass twice – in primary and general elections – and raise the signature collection requirement from 4% to 5 % of residents. If approved, the proposed changes will appear on the state’s 2024 ballot.
Major national anti-abortion groups say they don’t officially endorse those efforts, but support the GOP lawmakers behind them.
“It begins to diminish the importance of a constitution if it can be changed by the whim of today’s culture,” said Carol Tobias, chair of the National Right to Life Committee.
Even in states that have yet to take steps to put an abortion rights measure on the ballot, conservative fears of such a move are leading to surprising legislative action.
In Oklahoma, anti-abortion leader Lauinger argues with lawmakers that polls show overwhelming support for exceptions to rape and incest – as proposed by a legislator in a bill that cleared its first committee last month — and overwhelming opposition to leaving the state ban as is.
If the state didn’t have a ballot measurement process, he said, it wouldn’t support the exceptions. But since this threat exists, he argued, “we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
“The abortion industry has the weapon to defeat what we consider the ideal policy,” Lauinger told lawmakers. “The initiative petition is their trump card.”
Lauinger did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Still, National Right to Life, his organization’s parent group, told POLITICO it supports his argument that making exceptions for rape and incest is better than risking a sweeping ballot initiative enshrining the right. abortion in the state constitution.
“It’s not a betrayal,” Tobias insisted. “If you really look at what we’re up against, we could either save 95% of all babies or we could lose it all and all babies could die. It’s a bit difficult not to see the reality.
Advocates on both sides of the abortion fight, however, point out that a fight against the ballot initiative in Oklahoma is still possible — even likely — whether or not the state approves rape and incest exceptions.
“They’re probably going to try to make one anyway, whatever we do,” said Oklahoma State Rep. Jim Olsen, a Republican who spearheaded an effort with other conservative lawmakers from the state to defeat the Exceptions Bill. “The fight hasn’t even come and we’re already stepping back.”