Election 2014: Reproductive Rights on the Ballot

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Three states face sweeping anti-choice legislation that, if passed, would curtail or eliminate reproductive rights, slash a host of other health protections, and set precedent with nationwide relevance. Colorado and North Dakota both face measures to overhaul their constitutions to declare that a fertilized egg or fetus has full personhood under the constitution—a change that would ban all abortion, as well as certain kinds of reproductive and health care. A Tennessee constitutional amendment is designed to prevent federal courts from blocking state efforts to pass Texas-style slashes to abortion access.

Additional Common Dreams coverage on reproductive rights can be found here.

COLORADO: Amendment 67

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The Basics:

By granting "personhood" to a fetus, this amendment would outlaw all abortion in the state, including in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the pregnant woman's health. It would also ban certain kinds of emergency contraceptives and birth control methods by granting constitutional rights to a fertilized egg. Because the mandate to extend personhood to "unborn human beings" is so vaguely defined, there is concern that it could prompt investigations of miscarriages. This will be the third time since 2008 that Colorado residents vote on personhood measures.

Ballot Question:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining 'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings?

No on 67:

  • The No on 67 coalition includes doctors, nurses and other health care advocates and providers, as well as groups organizing against domestic violence and sexual assault, and leaders in faith and civil rights communities. Organizations include Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.
  • Opponents say the language of the amendment is misleading, because it claims to protect pregnant people when actually it would harm them by cutting their right to choose and reducing access to critical medical treatment.

Yes on 67:

  • Personhood USA, a national organization that has launched similar legislative efforts in at least six other states, is driving the campaign in Colorado, while also pushing to slash abortion rights in North Dakota.
  • Backers frame it as a measure to protect "pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts." The provision would allow for the prosecution for crimes.

Polling

-Colorado: Amendment 67-
DATEPOLLSTERYESNOUNDECIDED10/18/2014-10/21/2014   Suffolk University Political Research Center 30.8%  55.4%13.4% 10/16/14 - 10/19/14Public Policy Polling 37% 54% 9%     

NORTH DAKOTA: Constitutional Measure 1

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The Basics:

This measure would amend the state's constitution to eradicate abortion rights as well as threaten reproductive and public health care, ranging from birth control services to infertility treatments to pregnancy care (similar to Colorado's proposed Amendment 67). The legislation, if passed, would make North Dakota the first state in the nation to enact such a sweeping "personhood" change to its constitution, following decades of campaigning from anti-choice groups to pass similar laws. The push for the measure follows severe restrictions passed in North Dakota last year, one of which has since been overturned in federal court.

Ballot Question:

This constitutional measure would create and enact a new section to Article I of the North Dakota Constitution stating, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

No on 1:

  • Opponents include the North Dakota Coalition of Privacy in Health, Parents Against Personhood, and North Dakotans Against Measure 1.
  • "All abortion services would be banned," opponents point out. "Victims of rape and incest could be forced to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence. Women whose health is at risk could also be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies." But as with Colorado's Amendment 67, the implications could be far more reaching, including impacting access to infertility treatments and pregnancy care.
  • Opponents worry that voters are not fully aware of the threat this amendment poses to abortion and reproductive health rights because its language is vague and does not specifically mention abortion.

Yes on 1:

  • Backers of the measure include the national groups Personhood USA and the Family Research Council, known for launching similar personhood efforts.
  • At times, backers of the bill have downplayed the impact it will have, stating that it is not self-executing. But at other moments, the true intent of the legislation has been revealed, as when the measure's sponsor, state senator Margaret Sitte, declared last year: "This amendment is intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."

Polling

-North Dakota: Measure #1-
DATEPOLLSTERYESNOUNDECIDED9/26/2014 - 10/03/2014 University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration49.9%33.0%17.1%          

TENNESSEE: Constitutional Amendment 1

The Basics:

For over a decade, the Tennessee GOP has sought to put this language to a vote after the Supreme Court struck down sweeping anti-abortion measures in the state. The Amendment would prevent such Supreme Court reversals from happening in the future, clearing the way for far-right forces in the state to pass severe anti-abortion legislation, styled after laws passed in other southern states including Texas and Alabama. The law allows no exceptions, including in cases of rape or incest. Tennessee has already been named one of 27 states "hostile" to abortion by the Guttmacher Institute. "If Amendment 1 passes, anti-abortion politicians are poised to pass the same draconian laws and regulations that have forced facilities providing abortion to close in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia," states Planned Parenthood.

Ballot Question:

Shall Article I, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

No on 1:

  • "The amendment language is purposefully confusing and is meant to mislead voters about the real goal of the amendment, which is to make abortion more difficult, if not impossible, for women to access and more difficult and costly for physicians to provide," Planned Parenthood charges. Numerous faith leaders, student activists, and medical providers also oppose the proposed change.
  • All four of Tennessee's major newspapers—the Tennessean, Knoxville News Sentinel, Chattanooga Times, and Commercial Appeal—have published op-eds denouncing the proposed amendment. "Making any type of law immune from a court challenge is shortsighted, prejudicial - and in the case of what should be a woman's own decision about her health - downright dangerous," wrote the Tennessean editorial board.
  • "Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman's fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care," said Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist. "Politicians should not be interfering in personal medical decisions when they do not understand the medical basis of those decisions or the physical, emotional or economic impact of each individual pregnancy."

Yes on 1:

  • Backers include Tennessee Right to Life and the Yes on 1 Campaign.
  • They have sought to portray Tennessee as an out-of-state destination for abortions, and have framed Amendment 1 as a measure to ensure inspection and regulation of abortion facilities.

Polling

-Tennessee: Amendment #1-
DATEPOLLSTERYESNOUNDECIDED10/22/2014 - 10/26/2014 Middle Tennessee State University39% 32%29%9/24/2014 - 9/25/2014 Remington Research50%22%28% 4/28/2014 - 5/18/2014Vanderbilt University23%71%6%