Despite strong support in the U.S. for abortion rights, lawmakers over the past three years have dramatically cut access to reproductive health care, state by state. This Tuesday, ballot measures in Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee escalate this state-level chipping-away strategy by proposing "personhood" provisions and constitutional amendments that, if passed, would open the door to even more extreme abortion bans and health cuts for millions of people.
Some of these initiatives have a shot at passing.
Voters in North Dakota and Colorado face proposed constitutional amendments that would grant full "personhood" rights to a zygote at the moment of fertilization. Not only would this eliminate abortion rights in the state—including in cases of rape, incest, and health risks—but it would also ban certain forms of widely-used birth control and fertility treatments. The vaguely worded amendments, reproductive health advocates say, could result in far-reaching health care consequences, including limitations to pregnancy care and even investigations of miscarriages.
National anti-choice organizations, including Personhood USA, are pressing for the measures in both states, where they are up against diverse coalitions of community organizations, health care workers and advocates, and civil rights and faith leaders.
The Measure 1 "personhood" proposal in North Dakota, where sweeping abortion restrictions were instated last year, could pass. A recent poll conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration found that 49.9 percent of voters are in favor, 33 percent are opposed, and 17.1 percent are undecided. Opponents say the measure is worded to confuse voters, because it doesn't specifically mention abortion or reproductive rights. For this reason, analysts warn, it is slipping by largely unnoticed, despite its potentially severe repercussions.
In Colorado, voters have rejected two previous attempts to pass similar personhood provisions. But this time, proponents of Amendment 67 have sought to frame the proposal as a "protection" for pregnant woman, because it would allow for fetal homicide charges. The No on 67 coalition charges that the "misleading language of this far-reaching measure would actually harm pregnant women, and impede them from being able to seek medical treatment. It would also criminalize doctors and other medical professionals who treat pregnant women." The latest poll, conducted by Suffolk University Political Research Center, finds that the measure is likely to fail, with 55.4 percent of Colorado voters opposing, 30.8 percent in favor, and 13.4 percent undecided.
"For the Latina community, we have already unequal access to health care. More barriers create more imbalance and inequality for Latinos and African Americans in Colorado," Corrine Rivera-Fowler of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) told Common Dreams. COLOR members, along with the No on 67 coalition, are canvassing, phone-banking, and conducting media interviews to mobilize against the proposed measure. "It's a tremendous loss of resources to our community to have to again defeat something that has been defeated twice before," said Rivera-Fowler.
Pro-choice campaigners in Tennessee also face a fight to defend abortion rights.
The state's proposed Constitutional Amendment 1, if passed, would amend the state's constitution to say, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." For more than ten years, Tennessee Republicans have sought to enact the measure, following the Tennessee Supreme Court's ruling in the year 2000 to strike down a state anti-abortion measure. "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," warns Planned Parenthood.
The latest poll from Middle Tennessee State University finds that the outcome is "too close to call," with 39 percent of voters in favor of the measure, 32 percent opposed, and a whopping 29 percent undecided. "We stand today because pending legislation has the potential to send women back to the back alleys where we died from unsafe and unsanitary abortions," Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, declared at a Thursday press conference in Memphis. "We assemble today to impress upon Black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote."
Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told Common Dreams that, while this is not the first time similar ballot initiatives have been introduced at the state level, it is unusual to see three measures in one election. "Over the past three years, what we have seen is incredibly voluminous," said Nash. "There were about 230 abortion restrictions enacted between 2012 and 2014. These three initiatives are continuing this trend. If there was some success, if one of these measures was approved, it could spark additional interest in other states."