Ballot Initiatives Represent Multi-Pronged Attack on Choice

Kay Steiger

Voters in Colorado, South Dakota and California will have the opportunity to restrict or protect women's reproductive rights this November. What effect would each of these initiatives have, and who's behind them?

This fall, ballot initiatives
in three states–California, South Dakota, and Colorado–attack women’s reproductive health
in different ways. California’s anti-choice groups have put forth
what has become a traditional anti-choice attack: a parental notification
measure that is designed to chip away at access to abortion. South
Dakota is again attempting an outright abortion ban, a measure that is designed
to challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. Colorado citizens will vote on a new, extreme measure that would define a person’s life as beginning
at fertilization, outlawing not just abortions but also emergency contraception
and birth control.

"This really shows just how
divided the anti-choice movement really is," said John Kraus, communications
director for the Ballot Initiatives Strategy Center, a progressive non-profit
that aggregates information on ballot initiatives nationally. In each
state, the anti-choice movement is taking a different strategy to attack
women’s reproductive rights. It seems that the anti-choice movement,
rather than applying a unified national strategy, is catapulting a myriad
of anti-choice initiatives and seeing what sticks.


The proposed California ballot initiative (PDF), which the pro-life groups call "Sarah’s Law," is a combination of a 48-hour waiting period
and parental notification measure. To circumvent parental notification
in the case of abuse, the young woman must file a report of abuse against
legal parents or guardians and the doctor still has to notify "an
adult family member."

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This isn’t the first time
California has voted on a parental notification measure. Similar measures
were defeated in 2005 and 2006. A recent Field Poll found that public opinion is in favor of
the parental notification measure by 48-39 percent. But this poll is early in the election season. In 2006, polling indicated the
measure might pass until a poll released the day before Election Day
indicated public opinion opposed the measure. Ultimately, the initiative
was defeated by 8.5 percentage points.

The chief funder behind the California initiative is
Jim Holman, editor and publisher of weekly newspaper San Diego Reader
and the California Catholic Daily. He additionally backed the
previous California parental notification measures.

Recently Planned Parenthood
and its affiliates have put forth a lawsuit that contests the story of "Sarah," who has
been confirmed to be Jammie Garcia Yanez-Villegas, a 15-year-old that died
in Texas in 1994. The lawsuit argues that the proposed parental notification
initiative would have done little to prevent the teenager’s death
because at the time she was living with her fiancée and became part
of a common law marriage under Texas law. But earlier this month, a judge ruled that the story
can remain part of the voter guide literature.

South Dakota

The South Dakota initiative (PDF) is an adaptation of the abortion
ban that was passed by the South Dakota legislature and repealed by ballot initiative in 2006. This time, the ban has been put on the
ballot and includes an exception for the life of the mother as well
as an exception for rape and incest. But Healthy Families, a coalition
that is fighting the abortion ban this fall, notes that the "exceptions"
outlined in the measure don’t necessarily provide the protections
that the anti-choice groups claim.

A woman must be willing to
undergo a "biological sampling" or other DNA testing by law enforcement
to earn the exception for rape or incest. Already, few rape survivors are willing or able to press charges, so undergoing medical
testing to prove that she has been raped or has been the victim of incest
creates a serious infringement on the woman’s right to an abortion.

Perhaps the most interesting
part of the abortion ban is that funding behind it is unclear. The initiative
in 2006 received an anonymous $750,000 donation. The
money was funneled through a corporation called Promising Future, Inc.,
and state Rep. Roger Hunt, who introduced the ban in the legislature,
said he was the sole member of the corporation’s board of directors.
The corporation was formed less than two months before the ballot initiative
was voted on and Hunt refused to disclose the number of donors or how
many are from within the state.

It’s unclear where the funding
for the abortion ban is coming from, but national anti-choice groups
like Focus on the Family and national anti-choice leader Jerry Falwell,
Jr., have endorsed the ban.


Even schools within for the anti-choice movement consider Colorado’s proposed amendment extreme — Colorado Right to Life
has been disenfranchised from the National Right to Life, and Focus
on the Family has also chosen not to endorse the Colorado initiative. The ballot measure, if passed, would outlaw abortion care for a woman whose life may
be threatened by instances of miscarriage. For example, sometimes a
fertilized egg lodges in a woman’s fallopian tube and the expanding
cells cause the tube to rupture. Unless the doctor is allowed to remove
the cells, the woman may die.

The mastermind behind this
initiative seems to be James Patrick Johnston, an osteopathic doctor
from Ohio. A recent Colorado Independent article linked Johnston to militant anti-abortion
group Army of God, which has endorsed a number of attacks on abortion

Colorado’s initiative would
represent an attack on a woman’s reproductive autonomy in ways that
can’t yet be predicted. Some legal experts speculate that women could be charged with murder
for miscarrying in an instance when she didn’t even know she was pregnant.
It not only threatens a woman’s right to an abortion, but it threatens
a number of widely accepted provisions for women’s health such as
birth control and medical aid during a miscarriage.

Altogether, the three bans represent a multi-pronged attack on choice appearing on the ballot this November. While
in 2006 all eyes were on South Dakota, this fall reproductive rights activists have three states to watch.

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