Democrats have made no secret of the fact that they plan to run on abortion in this year’s elections. (What else are they going to run on? Bidenomics?) They are ramping up efforts in a number of traditionally red states to put the issue on the ballot, most recently in Mississippi and Missouri. Unfortunately, Republicans are being drawn into these battles and not always in ways that come off as flattering. That’s particularly true in Mississippi, where conservatives are not fighting to win the argument, but instead attempting to use legislative maneuvers to keep the question from being put to the test at all. (Associated Press)
Legislative efforts in Missouri and Mississippi are attempting to prevent voters from having a say over abortion rights, building on anti-abortion strategies seen in other states, including last year in Ohio.
Democrats and abortion rights advocates say the efforts are evidence that Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents are trying to undercut democratic processes meant to give voters a direct role in forming state laws.
“They’re scared of the people and their voices, so their response is to prevent their voices from being heard,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. “There’s nothing democratic about that, and it’s the same blueprint we’ve seen in Ohio and all these other states, again and again.”
The story unfolding in Mississippi is rather complex, but the goals of both sides in this debate are fairly obvious. Liberals in the state would like to put forth a ballot initiative similar to the one in Ohio where abortion rights were enshrined in the state constitution. They’re running into a couple of obstacles, however. First of all, it’s currently impossible to introduce a ballot initiative on any issue in Mississippi. In 2021, the state redrew its congressional district map, converting five districts into four. However, the current law regarding ballot initiatives specifically requires the originators to collect signatures from all five districts. One proposal currently being considered would amend that language regarding signatures so ballot initiatives can once more move forward.
But the Republicans in the legislature are trying to insert a poison pill into the proposal. The state house GOP added an exemption that would bar anyone from including abortion laws in a ballot initiative proposal. The measure is currently heading to the state senate but without the abortion exemption. It’s unclear which version will wind up prevailing, but the general consensus is that ballot initiatives will become possible again this year one way or the other.
I fully understand how passionate people are about the pro-life subject and abortion, particularly pro-life conservatives and Republicans. But even with that said, what the Mississippi House GOP is trying to do here simply strikes me as being wrong. Ballot initiatives are only an option in roughly half of the states in America, but they remain one of the best, most direct paths for fully democratic speech available when legislators fail or refuse to act on issues important to a majority of voters. We may not all like the results sometimes (again… see Ohio), but it’s still a case of Vox populi, vox Dei.
Placing restrictions on which issues can or can’t be put on the ballot undercuts the entire concept of the ballot initiative process. I understand that the Republicans are afraid they might lose, particularly after the shocking results in the otherwise noticeably red state of Ohio. But as we’ve discussed here in the past, that just seems to be the state of the country for now. Only a very small percentage of voters support the most extreme Democratic position that allows for abortion up to or even after birth. (Literal infanticide.) But there are also only a small and seemingly diminishing number of people who support a total ban on all or even most abortions, including very early in the pregnancy. The country has increasingly been moving to the middle on this issue. And if the Democrats can muster an army to go to the polls in November to vote on that issue, what else might they vote on? This has the potential to turn into a rerun of 2022 when an anticipated red tsunami turned into a trickle and that’s just what the Democrats are counting on. Don’t take the bait and don’t let them do it. There is too much else at stake.