Republican-Led States Employ Tactics to Keep Abortion Off the Ballot



AP News

Efforts are underway in Missouri and Mississippi to curtail voters’ influence on abortion rights, echoing strategies seen in other states, notably Ohio last year. Democrats and advocates for abortion rights argue that these endeavors reflect attempts by Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists to undermine democratic processes designed to involve voters in shaping state laws.

Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, criticizes these efforts, stating, “They’re scared of the people and their voices, so their response is to prevent their voices from being heard.” She identifies a pattern reminiscent of tactics used in other states, including Ohio.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, voters in seven states have either safeguarded abortion rights or defeated attempts to restrict them through statewide votes. Democrats plan to make the issue a focal point in the 2024 campaign.

A proposal recently passed by the Mississippi House aims to prohibit residents from initiating abortion-related measures on the statewide ballot. This move comes in the context of Mississippi having stringent abortion restrictions, allowing the procedure only to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest. Democrats argue that this legislation undermines the democratic process by limiting the people’s voice.

In Missouri, anti-abortion groups support a plan that would require initiatives to secure a majority vote in five of the state’s eight congressional districts, in addition to a simple statewide majority. This proposal coincides with an abortion-rights campaign launching a ballot measure effort to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Abortion rights groups in Missouri criticize Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, accusing him of attempting to obstruct the initiative by manipulating the measure’s ballot summary.

These attempts to prevent abortion-related measures from reaching the ballot mirror strategies employed in other states to target the ballot initiative process, a form of direct democracy available to voters in about half the states. Similar actions have been witnessed in Florida and Nevada, where efforts were made to keep abortion rights amendments off the ballot.

Ohio’s experience with a statewide vote on abortion rights last year is cited as a precedent for these tactics. After voters approved the abortion protections, Republican lawmakers sought to block the amendment from overturning the state’s existing restrictions. In a special election, attempts were made to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments, but the effort was defeated.

Deirdre Schifeling, Chief Political and Advocacy Officer of the ACLU, emphasized the broader implications of such actions, stating, “It’s about, ‘Will the majority be heard?’” Democrats and abortion rights advocates view these efforts as attacks on democracy itself.

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