Thursday, November 17, 2022
Rachel Rebouche & Mary Ziegler, Why Direct Democracy is Proving so Powerful for Protecting Abortion, The Atlantic
Ballot initiatives—not party politics—are allowing new majorities to emerge in support of more lenient abortion policies.
The news for abortion rights in Tuesday’s midterm election was stunning. In five states—California, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, and Vermont—voters went to the polls and either rejected an anti-abortion measure or added abortion rights to their state constitution. Just months earlier, Kansas, a conservative state with a history of intense anti-abortion activism, shocked the country by voting to protect state abortion rights by a significant margin.
The lesson here goes beyond the unpopularity of many abortion restrictions. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, people have looked primarily to political parties to defend abortion rights (or undo them)—and have come to expect outcomes that break cleanly along partisan lines. The results of these latest ballot measures suggest that we’ve underestimated the abortion-rights protections that direct democracy—not party politics—can produce. The fact is that disentangling questions about abortion from political affiliation may provide one of the best ways to protect or to restore abortion access in red and purple states, at least in the short run.
Lessons on how and why can be gleaned from an effort that took place an ocean away: Ireland’s 2018 campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which had, since 1983, recognized fetal rights and thus banned abortion. In subsequent years, the country was repeatedly chastised by the European Court of Human Rights for violating the human rights of women, but it was able to resist many demands for change by insisting that the country had democratically established its strong consensus in favor of fetal rights. In reality, support for legal abortion grew over the years, fueled, in part, by outrage over the death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died of sepsis after being refused an abortion following an incomplete miscarriage.