Legislative attempts are underway in the states of Missouri and Mississippi to prevent voters from having a say over abortion rights, based on anti-abortion strategies seen in other states, such as Ohio last year.
Democrats and abortion rights advocates say these initiatives demonstrate that Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents are trying to undermine democratic processes that give voters a direct role in making state laws.
“They are afraid of the people and their voices, so their response is to prevent their voices from being heard,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. “There’s nothing democratic about that, and it’s the same scheme we’ve seen in Ohio and all these other states, over and over again.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, voters in seven states have protected abortion rights or defeated attempts to restrict them in statewide votes. Democrats have pledged to make this issue a central campaign issue this year in every election.
A proposal passed Wednesday by the Mississippi House of Representatives would prohibit residents from submitting abortion initiatives at the polls across the state. Mississippi has one of the strictest restrictions in the country on abortion, which is prohibited except to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest.
In response to the bill, Democratic Rep. Cheikh Taylor said direct democracy “should not include terms and conditions.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you this is just about abortion,” Taylor said. “This is about a Republican Party that thinks it knows what’s best for you better than you know what’s best for you. It’s about control. “So much for freedom and limited government.”
The resolution is an attempt to revive the ballot initiative process in Mississippi, which has not had one since 2021, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the process was invalid because it required people to collect signatures from the five former districts of the United States House of Representatives. Mississippi became four districts after the 2000 census, but the content of the initiative was never updated.
Republican Congressman Fred Shanks said his party’s House lawmakers would not have passed the resolution, which will soon head to the Senate, without the abortion exemption. Some House Republicans said voters should not be allowed to vote on changing abortion laws because Mississippi originated the legal case that overturned Roe v. Wade.
“It took 50 years … to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Mississippi House Speaker Jason White, a Republican. “We were not going to allow it to be thrown out the window because people came from out of state, spent 50 million dollars and carried out an initiative.”
But Mississippi Democrats and abortion access organizations criticized the waiver for limiting the voice of the people.
“It’s a very undemocratic way to hurt access to reproductive health services,” said Sofia Tomov, operations coordinator for Access Reproductive Care Southeast, a member of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition. “It is violating people’s ability to participate in the democratic process.”
In Missouri, one of several states where an abortion rights initiative could go before voters in the fall, a plan supported by anti-abortion groups would require the initiatives to win a majority of votes in five of the state’s eight congressional districts, in addition to a simple majority throughout the state.
The proposal comes days after an abortion rights campaign in Missouri launched its bill aimed at enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution. Missouri abortion rights groups have also criticized Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, saying he is trying to stymie the initiative by manipulating the ballot summary. A Missouri appeals court recently ruled that the summaries were politically partisan and misleading.
Asked during a recent committee hearing whether the GOP proposal was an attempt to get rid of direct democracy, Republican state legislator Ed Lewis said: “I think our founding fathers were as afraid of direct democracy as we should be. we. That’s why they created a republic.”
Sam Lee, a political activist with Campaign Life Missouri, testified Tuesday in support of the need for provisions like this that ensure “minority rights are not trampled.”
“The concern of our founders, and the concern of many people over the decades and years, is to prevent there from being a tyranny of the majority,” he said.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo said controlling who can vote and on what issues has been “the top priority of the Republican Party for the last 20 years.”
“This is how democracies die,” he said in an interview. “We are seeing it in real time. “It’s the scariest moment I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Democratic Rep. Joe Adams criticized the plan in part on the grounds that the state’s congressional and legislative districts are redrawn to favor Republicans. That would make it nearly impossible for an abortion measure to pass under the proposed law.
Attempts to prevent abortion measures from being voted on in Missouri and Mississippi follow a similar pattern in other states, which focus on the ballot initiative process, a form of direct democracy available to voters in only half of the states.
Florida’s Republican attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to keep an abortion rights amendment proposal off the ballot, as an abortion rights coalition this month reached the number of signatures needed to introduce it to the ballot. 2024 ballot.
In Nevada, a judge on Tuesday approved a petition for a pro-abortion rights ballot measure as eligible for signature collection, dismissing a legal challenge by anti-abortion groups trying to prevent the ballot from going before voters.
Abortion rights advocates in Ohio have claimed that last year’s state vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution was as much about abortion as it was about a referendum on democracy itself. They said Republicans tried to obstruct the democratic process before the vote and tried to ignore the will of the electorate after the amendment was passed.
Ohio Republicans called a special election in August to try to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60%. That initiative was defeated at the polls and was widely seen as intended to undermine the abortion amendment.
After Ohio voters approved constitutional abortion protections last year, Republican lawmakers vowed to prevent the amendment from rolling back the state’s restrictions. Some proposed preventing Ohio courts from interpreting any cases involving the amendment.
“It wasn’t just about abortion,” Deirdre Schifeling, political and advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said last fall after the passage of the Ohio amendment. “It’s about whether the majority will be heard.”
Associated Press writers Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
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