The night of Tuesday, November 4, 2008, was a night of solid
victories against anti-choice ballot measures around the country. In
Colorado, voters beat back the country’s first "egg-as-a-person" ballot
proposal. California’s electorate vetoed parental notification measures for the
third time, and South Dakota beat back a second abortion ban.
For women’s health advocates celebrating
success against these restrictive measures, there is reason to be cautiously
optimistic that their message may have really sunk in: Americans are loath to
pull the lever in favor of limiting women’s autonomy. But even after decisive defeats, Bloomberg News
reports that anti-choicers in all three states threaten
a new round, hoping if not to achieve victory, then to distract reproductive health advocates and
keep the issue in the public eye. As one Colorado anti-choice activist put it, "Our
goal is to increase the social tension over abortion.”
And so reproductive justice
activists are prepared for the next cycle, should it be necessary. They hope
that blue-ing demographics and youth engagement will help their
cause in the long term. They are also eager to use a prevention and
reproductive justice framework to go on a peaceful offensive, challenging their
opponents to find common ground in reducing unintended pregnancies. It’s a
philosophy in keeping with a new administration whose modus operandi is reducing social tension over the issue
COLORADO: Definition of Personhood Voted Down
Amendment 48, in Colorado, was the
first of its kind: an attempt to codify the rights of a fertilized egg,
"defining the term ‘person’ to include any human being from the moment of
fertilization as ‘person.’"
Because of the extreme nature of
this measure, it racked up opponents from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for
Choice, all of whom pointed out that it could threaten many kinds of birth
control as well as banning all abortion. Anti-choice politicians in Colorado
refused to endorse the measure. In an editorial against the measure, which it
called "an inane flight of fancy," The Denver Post editorial board pointed out:
If made into law,
Amendment 48 could allow a man to sue a woman with whom he had conceived for
wrongful death of his fertilized egg. It could subject a woman who had
miscarried to charges of negligent homicide.
As Colorado went "blue," voters delivered a handy defeat to
Amendment 48, 74 to 26 percent. Sarah Fong, from the No on 48 campaign, said
she didn’t anticipate those numbers moving drastically, "unless the political
climate really swings back to red in Colorado. It’s a bona fide blue state now."
But she said that although the campaign was pleased with the
perceived climate shift and is eager to spend the interim helping Colorado women,
reproductive health activists were fully prepared to face down another measure in 2010.
Indeed, Bloomberg quoted Bob Enyart, from Colorado Right to
Life, as saying "they’ll be back in 2010."
Fong said she could imagine
Kristi Burton, the young woman who co-wrote the amendment, becoming a
"poster child" for the personhood movement, which hopes to expand its reach
beyond Colorado with Personhood
USA, a new national organization aiming to put personhood amendments on all states with a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment process.
CALIFORNIA: Rejecting "Draconian" Notification
In California, voters defeated a
parental notification law for teens
obtaining abortions, for the third time in four years, this time 52-to-48.
As Emily Douglas reported
last Tuesday night, James Holman and Sonoma winemaker Don Sebastiani, two
well-to-do Californians who financed the last three measure, have shown no sign
of abating in the past and are already talking about a fourth swing.
"We almost feel an obligation to
go forward," Proposition 4 spokesman Albin Rhomberg told
insidebayarea.com on Thursday.
The parental notification law, if
it had passed, would be "more draconian than any law in any state," says President
and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California Kathy Kneer. "They have
already indicated that they’re coming back for a fourth round. It’s a 3,000 word
constitutional amendment, but they keep 2700 words exactly the same and try to find a way to make it look new and
improved," she said. She added on this issue, the challenge pro-choicers faced
was explaining to parents that defeating Proposition 4 was not a defeat of parental
involvement, but a measure of protection for vulnerable young women without
trusted adults in their lives.
Kneer said that young voters
helped defeat Proposition 4, and that Planned Parenthood and its allies had
developed an excellent grassroots infrastructure that she hoped could be used
for further outreach.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Staring Down a Ban
In the entire state of South
Dakota, there is only one abortion clinic. So it’s not a far leap to conclude that the proponents
of a ban, including Abstinence Clearinghouse founder Lelsee Unruh, were more
interested in an ideological battle than in drastically reducing the number of
Still, a ban is a ban, and a
coalition of family planning advocates, the SD Campaign for Healthy Families,
worked tirelessly to fight the measure on behalf of South Dakota’s women. And in the end,
South Dakota voters defeated an abortion ban there for the second time, even though this time the ban had nebulous
health and rape/incest exceptions in its language. The margin was even wider
this time around — a solid 10 point victory in one of the reddest states in the
"We were confident, leading up to
election, that the people of South Dakota
wouldn’t want the government intruding, and that women and families decide these matters best," said
Kathi DiNicola, director of media relations for Planned Parenthood of
Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Unruh, for her part, has made it abundantly clear
again that coming back for a third round is her plan, telling Bloomberg: "This
time, I’m here to stay.”
But DiNicola says that serving the
women of South Dakota is Planned Parenthood’s number one priority, and the best
way to combat ideological attacks from the other side. "We support common sense
public policy to prevent unintended pregnancies and bring real solutions to the
table," she said.
Indeed, on all fronts, reproductive health advocates are eager to return to the daily work of ensuring maximum access to health care
for women. Fong, Kneer and DiNicola all feel that that focusing on the issue of
prevention of unintended pregnancies and affordable healthcare–as well as safe,
legal abortion–is both the core of their mission and has the added bonus of
being a preemptive offense against the next slate of restrictive ballot
measures. After all, pointing out the wastefulness of campaigns to ban abortion
when all those resources could be used to actually prevent unintended
pregnancy is not only good policy, it’s also good PR. And it sounds a lot like
the approach President Obama is taking.