Anti-Choice Ballot Initiative Watch: 2008


Conservatives have long trumped progressives at using the ballot initiative process to circumvent governors, state legislatures, and the courts. By sending paid organizers out to gather signatures from registered voters, they’ve successfully placed their policy priorities straight onto November ballots, where if they are passed, state legislatures often can’t overturn or amend them without super-majorities — or without going back to the ballot.

In recent years, affirmative action and immigrants’ rights have been targeted by the Right for the ballot initiative treatment. Most infamously, California businessman Ward Connerly successfully overturned Michigan’s affirmative action policies by giving his quest the misleading name "The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative." This year, conservatives are applying similarly confusing rhetoric to their nationwide drive to restrict reproductive freedom at the ballot box. Here’s a primer of what to expect in various states this November.

Directly Challenging Roe

The most ideologically strident of the new anti-choice initiatives are the so-called "Human Life Amendments." If approved at the ballot, these initiatives would amend state constitutions to declare that life begins the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg — and that the resulting mass of cells has the exact same legal rights as a human being living outside of the womb. The campaign to put "Human Life Amendment" initiatives on state ballots is led by the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based organization that describes itself as "the sword and shield for people of faith." The group’s goal is to directly challenge Roe v. Wade by provoking pro-choice lawsuits, ultimately culminating in a Supreme Court case that would take advantage of the Court’s new, more conservative make-up. In practice, the Human Life Amendment would not create new laws or void existing ones, but would provide state legislatures and governors with constitutional backing for laws outlawing abortions and even some forms of hormonal contraception (those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, not fertilization itself).

The good news is that of the four states targeted by Thomas More, two of them — Georgia and Oregon — haven’t allowed the signature-gathering process to move forward. That leaves Colorado and Montana as battle-grounds. In Colorado last week, a coalition of religiously-motivated anti-choicers with the misleading name Colorado for Equal Rights submitted 131,000 signatures in support of placing the Human Life Amendment on the ballot. That’s more signatures than are legally necessary. In Montana, where the initiative is called the "Personhood Amendment," the signature gathering process is still underway. There, as in other states considering the proposal, its radical and even illegal nature has split the anti-choice community down the middle. That National Right to Life Committee, a leader in its field, has not endorsed the strategy. And Catholic groups, including the Montana Catholic Conference, have outright rejected it. In a statement, Montana’s bishops explained their rationale as such: "Legal experts agree that the current Supreme Court would, at best, decline to hear the case, and at worst, use the opportunity to reaffirm the right to abortion yet another time. The more times the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions are affirmed, the more difficult it becomes to obtain further hearings from the Court and to expect decisions to end abortion." (For a June 25, 2008, update on the Montana ballot initiative, click here.)

Targeting Health Care Providers, Infantalizing Women

In this area, there has already been a major victory for reproductive rights advocates. Through a lawsuit, Planned Parenthood stopped a proposed ballot initiative in Missouri that would have made performing an abortion an act of criminal negligence unless a woman was evaluated beforehand for so-called "abortion risk factors." Those factors would have included common psychological and emotional conditions such as depression and anxiety, which very often accompany any unexpected pregnancy — regardless of a woman’s decision on whether or not to seek an abortion. The measure had been pushed by the Eliot Institute, a group that traffics in the scientifically false notion that abortions cause breast cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, abortion is one of the safest surgeries offered, and is considerably less risky for a woman’s health than carrying a pregnancy to term.

Straight-Forward Abortion Bans

In 2006 South Dakota voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have banned all abortions, including in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the mother’s health or life. This year, anti-choicers are trying again with a ban that includes those exceptions. They have already gathered enough signatures to place their initiative on the ballot.

In California, anti-choicers are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would "declare God the creator of life" and change the law so that "abortion after 24 weeks is murder unless necessary to save the mother’s life." It’s not clear who the initiative’s backers believe should be charged with murder: women, doctors, or both?

Parental Notification

Also in California, anti-choicers are gathering signatures to place an initiative on the ballot that would require parental notification for a minor to obtain an abortion. Voters have rejected such measures twice in the past.

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  • invalid-0

    Once the human oocyte is fertilized, it becomes a zygote, I believe. You might call it a fertilized egg, but the term zygote describes what stage of development the newly created individual of the human species is in. You may call it a mass of cells. That “mass” is an individual, with it’s own DNA and if left unharmed, will continue developing for as long as 100 years. And, if you believe in an afterlife, forever.

    These facts of human development are inconvenient truths to those who no longer believe that all human life, no matter the circumstances of it’s beginning, is sacred. Everyone knows how hard it is for a woman to find herself unmarried and pregnant.Or being told by some doctor that her life is at risk, when in reality he wants to avoid handling a risky pregnancy. Or, worst of all, being pregnant by a rapist or family member.

    Still, if we decide beforehand that human life is sacred, we can show love to that baby by offering to suffer the pain of giving it up for adoption or whatever we have to do. I’ve met many womean who did this and it’s a far better “choice” than rationalizing killing by calling a newly conceived person, a “fertilized egg” or “mass of cells”. Anyway, most abortions are done later, when the child is moving, heart beating, brain waves blasting, and HAS FINGERNAILS, as they said in “Juno”.

    • invalid-0

      To quote from your comment: “Everyone knows how hard it is for a woman to find herself unmarried and pregnant.Or being told by some doctor that her life is at risk, when in reality he wants to avoid handling a risky pregnancy.”

      What everyone may not know is how hard it is to be a married woman who desperately wants a child with her husband, has conceived, but has lost the fetus and needs an abortion to remove it.

      My life was not put on the line against the life of my unborn child. My unborn child was already dead. However, my cervix somehow missed that obituary and refused to open. Because of the abortion laws where I live, my OB/GYN was not allowed to immediately remove the dead tissue from my body. I suffered severe cramps and was on mandatory bed rest to ensure my body did not become septic from the dead tissue festering inside of me.

      Because pro-lifers claim that you wish to protect the sanctity of life, my own life was almost allowed to be taken by a dead mass of tissue. This tissue was not moving, its heart did not beat, its brain did not think, and it had no fingernails. Despite this, my tissue, heart, brain, and fingernails were almost lost because politicians have seen to it to legislate my rights to my own body. Where is the compassion, love of Christ and neighbor, and sanctity of life in my scenario? Since when did my actual life become trumped by the mis-carried lump of tissue that had no chance of life? If that is how you show “love” then I am very glad to be in the group of women whom you deplore because your kind of love is deadly.

  • invalid-0

    1) the anti-abortion industry can’t get enough signatures for it’s ballot inititives unless it uses misleading language to get people to sign.
    2) another effective tactic of the anti-abortion industry is to smear women who get abortions as either sluts who abort on a whim and need punishment, or childish half-wits who need to be “protected” from all their options.
    3) Women move, our hearts beat, our brainwaves blast, and we have FINGERNAILS. But we don’t seem to be as big a concern as fertilized zygotes are to the anti-abortion industry. Maybe it’s because women don’t tend to do what we are told.
    4) The final truth is: it is all about CONTROL of the lives of others in general and of the sexuality of women in particular. When taken down to the nitty-gritty, the anti-abortion industry DOES NOT TRUST WOMEN. That is why they want laws to force women to make the choice(only singular,not plural) the anti-abortion industry wants.
    5) Your “far better choice” of adoption may be fine for you and the women who have decided to give up their newborns; but it is not for all women. If you really want your wishes put into law and rammed down the throats of other women, that rather flies in the face of the “all life is sacred” meme, doesn’t it?

  • mellankelly1

    That "mass" is an individual, with it’s own DNA and if left unharmed, will continue developing for as long as 100 years

    Well, the zygote is an individual (a single organism as distinguished from a group) but your supposition that if left "unharmed" it will continue to develop for as long as 100 years is incorrect.  The figures for early spontaneous abortion (within the first six weeks) range from 45% to 75%… so roughly half of all zygote/blastocyst will die.

    These facts of human development are inconvenient truths to those who no longer believe that all human life, no matter the circumstances of it’s beginning, is sacred

    Embryology is most certainly not an inconvenient truth to those who believe that a woman’s reproductive decisions are a private matter and should not be decided by any third party.  The sacredness of a fertilized egg is highly debatable as it may be highly valued and important within the context of a wanted pregnancy and cursed when it is unwanted.  What is not debatable is the sacredness of the pregnant woman… is she not highly valued and important in any and all circumstances regardless of whether or not her pregnancy is wanted?

    Still, if we decide beforehand that human life is sacred, we can show love to that baby by offering to suffer the pain of giving it up for adoption or whatever we have to do.

    Yes, you are more than welcome to show your love for your fertilized egg by suffering any pain you wish, you are even welcome to die for your fertilized egg.  What you simply cannot do, is expect me to suffer or die for my fertilized egg.  I have the right to refuse to allow you to invade my bodily integrity… what you feel about my fertilized egg is not relevant to me and your wishes cannot be forced upon me.

    Anyway, most abortions are done later

    What do you mean by "later"?  80% of abortions are done before 10 weeks gestation.