As activists analyze the results of Tuesday’s vote to protect abortion rights in Ohio, Jamie Corley is already on track to put a similar measure before Missouri voters next year.
Corley, a former Republican congressional staffer, filed not one, but six potential ballot measures in August to roll back his state’s nearly complete ban on abortion, due to the US Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to end federal protections for termination of pregnancy.
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous it is to be pregnant in Missouri right now,” Corley said at a restaurant near her home in St. Petersville. Louis suburbs. “There is a real urgency to pass something to change abortion laws.”
Missouri is one of at least 11 states considering abortion-related ballot measures for next year, part of a wave of such moves since the Supreme Court decision. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And while November 2024 is still a year away, the groundwork for that campaign has been going on for months, sometimes years.
In Iowa, for example, efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment not declaring the right to abortion began in 2021, although the legislature has yet to complete the process. In Colorado, competing initiatives — one to protect abortion and one to ban abortion — could potentially appear on the same ballot if supporters of both manage to collect enough signatures. And in Missouri, potential ballot measures to expand access to abortion have been mired in litigation for months, delaying signature gathering and highlighting infighting on both sides of the issue.
In a way, I think that’s what the Supreme Court wanted. They said, ‘People should figure it out.’
John Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Reference Institute at the University of Southern California
The push to send the controversial issue to voters comes on the heels of last year’s string of ballot measures for abortion rights in six states: California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont. And on Tuesday, Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed a measure establishing a state constitutional right to abortion.
Citizen-initiated ballot measures in the 26 states that allow them are often pushed by legislatures that stray from public opinion, Matsusaka said. 14 states have banned abortion since 2012 Dobbs Despite polling decisions suggesting these restrictions are unpopular. Two-thirds of adults in a May KFF poll expressed concern, for example, that such restrictions could make it harder for doctors to treat patients safely.
But in states where abortion is legal, pressure is coming from another direction.
“Colorado was actually the first state, or one of the first states, to offer abortion on demand,” said Faye Barnhart, one of the anti-abortion activists who petitioned to limit abortion there. “We’ve been a pioneer in doing the wrong thing, and so we’re hopeful that we’ll be a pioneer in turning it around to do the right thing.”
A similar effort in Iowa, meanwhile, is in the air. In 2021 the Legislature approved a proposed amendment declaring that the Iowa Constitution does not protect abortion rights. But the measure must again pass the Republican-controlled Legislature to go on the ballot. Lawmakers declined to take up the issue during this year’s legislative session but may do so in 2024. A poll published by the Des Moines Register in March found that 61% of Iowans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
If Missouri’s abortion ban is indeed rolled back next year, it would mark the fourth time since 2018 that state voters have rebuked their Republican leaders, who have controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature since 2017. Recent initiative petitions have succeeded in raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and expanding Medicaid, the public insurance program for low-income and disabled people.
The campaign’s success doesn’t mean the petition process is easy, said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who specializes in ballot initiatives. Gathering signatures is expensive and often requires a deal with what he calls the “initiative industrial complex.”
An analysis by Ballotpedia found that the cost per required signature collected for initiative campaigns in 2023 averaged $9.38. At that rate, it would cost more than $1.6 million to get an initiative on the ballot in Missouri — with about 172,000 signatures needed. And that’s before adding the cost of running a campaign to persuade voters to choose a side.
In the two months before the November vote in Ohio, pro-abortion-rights campaigns raised about $29 million and opposition campaigns about $10 million, according to the Associated Press. Most of the funding came from out-of-state groups, such as the progressive SixteenThirty Fund in Washington, DC, and an Ohio organization affiliated with the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
And more money will pour into the next effort: Last month, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a billionaire Democrat whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, launched the Think Big America organization to help fund abortion-rights ballot measures across the country.
Still, the cost of launching a ballot campaign is a formidable barrier, said Emily Wells, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has clinics in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. For example, during last year’s election in Kansas, competing campaigns combined raised more than $11.2 million. That may be one factor in the absence of a ballot measure in Oklahoma despite the momentum it has had for the past year.
“It’s not just: Can you rally, educate voters, and get them out? But: Are you strong enough to fight against years of misinformation, miseducation, and really shameful and stigmatizing information about abortion? Can you collect?” Dr. Wells.
Polling in Missouri indicates that voters statewide, including many Republicans, may support abortion rights under certain circumstances.
A political action committee called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom had already filed 11 proposals to repeal the state’s abortion ban, leading Corley to file her petition in August. Corley says his proposals are too narrow to attract support from sympathetic Republicans like himself. They provide exemptions for rape, molestation, fetal abnormalities and maternal health. Three would prevent restrictions on abortion for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Missourians’ proposals for constitutional liberty would allow abortion after pregnancy. Some versions only allow abortion regulations after 24 weeks, while others specify after “fetal viability” or give no time limit.
One group that has so far withdrawn support from any effort is Planned Parenthood in St. Louis area and southwest Missouri, the state’s other major Planned Parenthood affiliate and the final clinic to provide abortion services before Missouri’s ban.
“My concern is that we’re potentially rebuilding the same system that failed so many people,” said Colin McNicholas, its chief medical officer for reproductive health services.
Missouri has long sought a way to limit abortion even though it was upheld by the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, including the enactment of a 72-hour waiting period in 2014. The number of abortions recorded in the state fell from 5,772 in 2011 to 150 in 2021, the last full year before the current ban.
“We know what it’s like to live in post-Ro Reality, and we already knew that reality Dobbs decision,” McNicholas said.
Still, Corley said his team is ready to move forward with at least one measure.
“People are looking for something that we’re putting forward, something in the middle that provides protection against criminal prosecution,” Corley said. “I also don’t think people realize how bad it can be in Missouri.”
Rural editor and correspondent Tony Leys in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Reprinted from this article khn.orgA national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of KFF’s core operating programs – the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.