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The anti-abortion movement is making a big play to thwart citizen initiatives on reproductive rights

The anti-abortion movement is making a big play to thwart citizen initiatives on reproductive rights

CHICAGO– Anti-abortion groups and their Republican allies in state governments are reeling from a series of defeats and are using a range of strategies to counter the proposed voting initiatives intended to protect reproductive rights or prevent voters from having a say in the fall elections.

Tactics include efforts to have signatures removed from initiative petitions, legislative pushes for competing ballot measures that could confuse voters and months of delays caused by lawsuits over ballot initiative language. Abortion rights advocates say many of the strategies build off those tested in ohio last year where the voters ultimately succeeded a constitutional amendment affirming reproductive rights.

The strategies are being used in some form in at least seven states where initiatives aimed at codifying abortion and reproductive rights are being proposed for the November ballot. The fights over planned statewide ballot initiatives are the latest sign of the deep divisions created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision two years ago to terminate a constitutional right to abortion.

Last week the court ruled in another major abortion case: unanimously defend access to a medicine It is used in most abortions in the US, although the battle over mifepristone is still active in many states.

The stakes for the proposed ballot initiatives are high for both parties.

Where Republicans control the legislature and enact strict abortion restrictions, a state initiative is often the only way to protect access to abortion and other reproductive rights. Voters have enshrined abortion rights or rejected attempts to restrict them all seven states where the question has been on the ballot since 2022.

In South Dakota, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow residents to do this withdraw their signatures about citizen-led petitions. This launched an all-out effort by anti-abortion groups to invalidate proposed abortion rights voting measure by encouraging endorsers to withdraw their signatures.

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South Dakota’s secretary of state in May labeled hundreds of calls from an anti-abortion group accused of impersonating government officials as “scams.”

“It appears the calls are trying to pressure voters to ask for their names to be removed from the abortion rights petitions.” The office reported this in a statement.

Adam Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, the organization behind the proposed measure, said this is part of “an orchestrated, organized effort between states.”

“People want to vote on this issue, and they don’t want that to happen,” he said of anti-abortion groups. “They are doing everything they can to avoid a vote on this issue.”

A “Decline to Sign” campaign in Arkansas escalated this month after a conservative advocacy group published the names of the paid campaigners for abortion rights effort of the voting measure. Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the ballot initiative, denounced the measure as an intimidation tactic.

In Missouri, Republicans and anti-abortion groups are resisting efforts to restore abortion rights through constitutional amendment at every step in the process.

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey stone walls last year’s abortion rights campaign. When Secretary of State, Republican Jay Ashcroft, tried to describe the proposal to voters would allow “dangerous and unregulated live birth abortions.” A state appellate court ruled last year that Ashcroft’s formulation was politically partisan and threw it out.

But Ashcroft’s actions and the legal battle cost the abortion rights campaign several months, preventing its supporters from collecting thousands of voter signatures needed to put the amendment on the ballot.

Once the legal battle was settled, abortion opponents launched a “decline to sign” campaign, aimed at thwarting signature-gathering efforts by the abortion rights campaigns. At some point voters were sent texts that falsely accuse submitters of attempts to steal people’s personal information.

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Republican lawmakers tried to advance a new ballot measure increase the threshold for amending the Missouri Constitution, partly in hopes of making it more difficult to pass the abortion rights proposal.

Both anti-abortion efforts failed, as did the abortion rights campaign in May handed in more than double the required number of voter signatures. Now it’s up to Ashcroft’s office to verify the signatures and make them eligible for a vote.

Meanwhile, opposition groups are moving in Arizona, Colorado, Florida And Nebraska have attempted to create their own ballot amendments to codify existing abortion restrictions, although these efforts failed to gather enough signatures in Florida and Colorado.

Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland and an adviser to the Issue 1 campaign that codified abortion rights in Ohio, said she had warned about the possibility of competing ballot measures that could confuse voters.

While efforts to keep abortion off the ballot follow a similar blueprint to what she saw in Ohio last year, Hill said she is closely watching new efforts across the country.

“The anti-abortion side is still trying to figure out what the formula is to defeat these ballot measures,” Hill said.

A strategy document leaked last month shows that Arizona Republicans are considering several competing measures to enshrine abortion restrictions in the state constitution. Possible petition names include the “Protecting Pregnant Women and Safe Abortions Act,” the “Arizona Abortion and Reproductive Care Act,” or the “Arizona Abortion Protection Act.”

The document explicitly states how the alternative measures could undermine a proposal from reproductive rights groups seeking to codify abortion rights through viabilityusually around the 23rd to 24th week of pregnancy.

“This leaked document revealed a scheme to confuse voters by using one or more competing ballots with similar titles,” said Cheryl Bruce, campaign manager for Arizona for Abortion Access.

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In Nebraska, anti-abortion groups are opposing a planned ballot initiative to protect reproductive rights two of their own.

Allie Berry, campaign director for the Nebraska Protect Our Rights campaign, which aims to protect reproductive rights, said the competing measures are intended to mislead and confuse voters. She said the campaign is working to educate voters about the differences between each of the initiatives.

“If you have to resort to deceit and confusion, it shows that they realize that most Nebraskans want to protect abortion rights,” she said.

One counter-initiative launched by anti-abortion activists in May aims to ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy. The petition, called ‘Now Choose Life’, would grant embryos ‘personality’.

Another launched in March wouldn’t go that far, but instead seeks to codify the state constitution’s existing 12-week abortion ban, while giving lawmakers the option to pass further restrictions in the future.

The petition, called Protect Women and Children, has been supported by the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and others in the state.

Sandy Danek, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, called the petition a “reasonable alternative measure.” She said, “As time goes on and we continue to educate,” the organization will strive to further restrict abortion.

“I see this as a step-by-step process that we have been working on for 50 years,” she said.


Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.


The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to improve its explanatory reporting on elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.



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