This year's been full of terrible headlines about the slow erosion of reproductive rights — from Texas struggling to keep its abortion clinics open to forced ultrasound laws in North Carolina and elsewhere. Increasingly, those battles for your rights aren't taking place in Congress or at the Supreme Court but rather in the states themselves, as governors and state representatives push new restrictions aimed at limiting access to health care. On Tuesday, when Americans across the country head to the ballot box to vote on a new batch of governors, congresspeople, and ballot initiatives, the next step in many of those battles will be decided.
This fall, all eyes have been on Colorado, and with good reason. For starters, Democrats are running a very real risk of losing their majority in the Senate, and Colorado is one of a few key battleground states. As it stands, the race is at an almost dead heat with Republican Cory Gardner pulling out a slight lead over Democrat Mark Udall.
This is an especially crucial race for reproductive rights considering that Rep. Gardner is a pro-life candidate who has voted to stop both federal funding of abortion as well as funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, in addition to voting to ban federal health coverage that provides abortion.
But, beyond the Senate race, Colorado voters will also be asked to vote on Amendment 67, which is a so-called “Personhood” amendment. These types of amendments, which have been tried (and have failed) before in Colorado and elsewhere, grant “personhood” to unborn fetuses — a fertilized egg would have the same rights and legal protections as a full-grown human being. Although proponents of the amendment insist it exists to protect women, opponents argue that it would curtail reproductive services, restrict emergency contraception, and (worst-case scenario) criminalize women who have miscarriages and stillbirths.
During his 2010 campaign for Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker made no secret of the fact that he is staunchly pro-life, even in cases of rape and incest. He is also a supporter of abstinence-only education and opposes state funding for clinical providers of birth control. After taking office, Walker proceeded to enact some frightening legislature regarding women’s health and reproductive services, including signing a bill requiring women to view ultrasounds of fetuses they are seeking to abort. He eliminated state funding for Planned Parenthood centers, resulting in several closings within Wisconsin. Walker also introduced a state budget bill that sought to repeal the state’s Contraceptive Equity law, which ensures that insurance policies cover contraception.
Governor Walker’s attempts to restrict reproductive services and deny easy access to contraception are almost too numerous to list. However, his battle against reproductive freedom is being challenged by the adamantly pro-choice opponent, Mary Burke. Considering that the gubernatorial race is now neck-and-neck, each vote matters, especially for Wisconsinites concerned with the health and reproductive services available to women.
Colorado isn’t the only state with a Personhood measure on the ballot this November. North Dakota’s Measure 1 has gotten far less attention than Colorado’s Amendment 67, but is arguably more radical.
Measure 1 has been nicknamed the “life begins at conception” amendment — if it passes, it would revise the state constitution to read that the “inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” This is a major blow to a state where access to abortion is limited to just one clinic and, even then, severely regulated. If this passes, North Dakota will become the second state to have the idea that life begins at conception written into its state constitution (the first was Missouri).
Republican State Senator Margaret Sitte has stated that the measure is “a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade." However, the scope of Measure 1 could extend well beyond access to abortion services and infringe on women’s access to birth control and emergency contraception.
Current Governor Rick Scott has signed several anti-abortion bills during his tenure in office. In 2011, he signed a number that restrict reproductive access, including one that required women seeking abortions to endure ultrasounds of their fetus before undergoing the termination — and another that stripped abortion services from plans offered under Obamacare. In 2014, Scott signed a bill preventing abortions on any fetus that is viable outside the womb, typically around the 20-week mark. It’s clear that Scott is committed to chiseling away at the reproductive-health services available to women until they are almost nonexistent.
Scott’s opponent, the Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, has been criticized for inconsistent views on abortion. During a Senate run in the ‘80s, he described himself as pro-choice. In the Republican primary of the 2006 gubernatorial race, Crist described himself as pro-life, but with the caveat that he didn’t feel entitled to impose that belief onto others, which actually sounds fairly pro-choice to us. It’s worth pointing out that while in office, Crist vetoed the ultrasound bill that Scott ended up signing. In any case, Scott’s record on reproductive rights has been a major point of contention in Crist’s campaign, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out at the polls. As it stands, the race is essentially a toss-up.
Another controversial ballot measure is Tennessee’s Amendment 1. Currently, residents of Tennessee benefit from particularly strong protections regarding access to reproductive services. Also, many women from neighboring states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, often travel to Tennessee to receive the abortions that they can’t access in their (far more restrictive) home states. However, if Measure 1 passes, the state legislature can impose more restrictions on reproductive services, affecting not only the residents of Tennessee, but women all over the South who have few, if any, other options.
Last year, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis emerged as a champion of reproductive rights when she embarked on an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to block the passage of Senate Bill 5, which was designed to add more restrictions to reproductive services, including a ban on abortions performed on pregnancies past 20 weeks. Even the pink sneakers Davis wore while she was required to stand and speak for 11 consecutive hours are remembered as a powerful symbol of Davis’ commitment to the availability of reproductive services for the women of Texas. Although Governor Rick Perry ended up signing the bill into law a month later in July, 2013, the national attention Davis received during her fight against the bill made her a natural contender for the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Despite the fact that Wendy Davis has won admirers on a national level, she is currently trailing Republican gubernatorial hopeful — and pro-life candidate — Attorney General Greg Abbott by double digits in the race for Governor.
Abbott’s lead comes at a particularly precarious time for the availability of reproductive services within Texas. Earlier this month, 13 of the state’s 20 abortion clinics were forced to shut down overnight, due to a federal appeals court ruling demanding millions of dollars in hospital-style upgrades. The Supreme Court has since swept in and reversed this decision, pending a New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding the constitutionality of Texas’s harsh new abortion restrictions. Attorney General Greg Abbott is a vocal proponent of the laws restricting Texas abortion providers.