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West Virginia and Alabama voters approve dangerous anti-choice ballot initiatives

Oregon rejected a similar measure that would have severely curtailed abortion access.

Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters  demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved ballot initiatives on Tuesday that will update the state constitutions to declare that abortion rights are not guaranteed, a move that will severely curtail reproductive rights in the states. In Oregon, voters blocked a similar ballot initiative that would have prevented taxpayer dollars from covering abortions for Medicaid beneficiaries and public employees.

Pro-choice and anti-choice advocates in all three states campaigned for weeks prior to the vote, propelled by the fact that the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority, with the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, all but guarantees an end to Roe v. Wade, putting abortion rights in the hands of the states.

If the court takes Roe off the books, West Virginia’s state legislature will be allowed to ban the procedure outright, thanks to the approved measure, Amendment 1, which changes the state constitution to read that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

While the state already has a pre-Roe abortion ban in place that criminalizes the practice unless it is done to save the pregnant person’s life, the ban is, according to NARAL, “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Tuesday’s ballot measure would revive that ban, allowing it to go into effect if Roe is overturned. The measure will also prevent Medicaid from funding even those abortions that are allowed under the state’s exceptions, including to save the life of the pregnant person, or in cases of rape or incest. Because it is largely low-income people who rely on Medicaid funding to pay for their abortions under these cases, reproductive rights advocates have called the measure an attempt to “take away Medicaid funding for abortion for poor people.”

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Similarly in Alabama, voters approved a ballot initiative, Amendment 2, that will also change the state constitution to state that abortion rights are not protected. Alabama’s measure will also give legal “personhood” rights to fetuses, a move that will criminalize certain forms of contraception. The amendment will revive Alabama’s pre-Roe ban, allowing the state to ban abortion completely if Roe is overturned. 

Alabama and West Virginia now join four other states — Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota — that have similar “trigger” laws in place, which will ban abortion if Roe is overturned.

In Oregon, voters blocked Measure 106, which aimed to stop public funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. The measure would have ended abortion benefits for Medicaid beneficiaries and those working for the state, such as nurses and teachers.

Opponents of all three measures outspent proponents by large margins. In Alabama, anti-choice advocates raised less than $4,000, while pro-choice groups raised nearly $1 million, according to Politico. Rewire News reported last week that, in Oregon, supporters of the measure spent more than $444,000, while opponents spent nearly $10 million. A coalition of more than 30 groups opposed West Virginia’s measure and believed they would be able to block the initiative, telling Politico last month that they were “definitely confident given the research we’ve done in the field.”

With Tuesday’s losses in Alabama and West Virginia, reproductive rights advocates are concerned that legislators may pass a slew of other restrictive laws.

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“It’s disturbing that 45 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, attacks on abortion continue. Especially, at a time when access to reproductive health care — including abortion, contraception and maternity coverage — is being endangered at every turn, we should be focused on increasing access to reproductive health care, not diminishing it,” Dr. Willie Parker, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told ThinkProgress in an email.

“Families thrive when they can make the decisions that are best for them, without government interference,” Parker added.