In a strong win for reproductive rights advocates, voters in North Dakota and Colorado handily defeated – by a 2-to-1 margin – two state constitutional personhood amendments that would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs and ban access to abortion and some forms of birth control. In Tennessee, however, a state constitutional amendment that takes away privacy rights to abortion from women and gives state legislators more power to restrict abortion access and birth control passed.
In North Dakota, voters decided on Measure 1 on Election Day, a proposed change to the state constitution that would have created an “inalienable right to life” for humans “at any stage of development,” including the moment of fertilization and conception. North Dakota voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure 1 64 to 36 percent, despite stories of voter confusion that spread in some polling places.
In Grand Forks, students from the University of North Dakota were told they could not vote at their local precinct because their student ID certificates did not properly indicate their campus addresses. Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) National Campus Organizers on the ground in North Dakota, Taylor Kuether and Alyssa Seidorf, estimate that about half of all student voters were turned away at the polls in Grand Forks. However, in Fargo, the vast majority of students were able to vote using their student ID certificates.
“We are so proud of all the students that helped get out the vote,” Kuether and Seidorf said in a statement to the Feminist Newswire. FMF’s organizers tweeted guidance throughout the election to students, reporting problems and encouraging others to get out and vote.
Despite the ballot initiative victory, realizing full access to comprehensive reproductive health care under North Dakota law is still a challenge. There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state, and that clinic continues to operate despite a state TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law that requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges to an area hospital. The North Dakota Supreme Court also just upheld HB 1297, a bill that dramatically limits access to medication abortion in the state. The law took effect November 1.
In Colorado, voters rejected personhood but also elected a proponent of similar legislation as their Senator. Representative Cory Gardner (R) – who cosponsored a federal personhood bill – defeated incumbent candidate and personhood opponent, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), by 10 points. Amendment 67, however, a measure which would have banned abortion without any exceptions, end in-vitro fertilization across the state, severely restrict access to common forms of birth control, and potentially subject anyone who suffered a miscarriage to a criminal investigation, was trounced. 64 percent of voters rejected the extreme amendment, marking the third time that a personhood measure has failed on the state ballot.
Amendment 67 drew strong criticism from 18 national and local newspapers, legendary human rights activist and FMF Board Member Dolores Huerta, and a host of other high-profile advocates. FMF organized campaigns across the state to mobilize student voters against the ballot measure led by National Campus Organizer Nancy Aragon and duVergne Gaines, Director of both the FMF’s CHOICES Feminist Campus Leadership Program and National Clinic Access Project. FMF President Eleanor Smeal celebrated the Colorado victory on Twitter, noting the certainty of the numbers:
Women’s movement defeats the so-called Personhood Amendment in #Colorado by about a 2 to 1 margin for the third time. #VoteNo67
— Ellie Smeal (@elliesmeal) November 5, 2014
In Tennessee, however, voters passed Amendment 1 – a state constitutional amendment that takes away privacy rights for abortion and birth control access and permits state legislators to pass laws restricting abortion and birth control – despite strong opposition from students, medical doctors, and survivors of sexual violence, including Ashley Judd. The Amendment passed by six points, with 53 percent voting yes and 47 percent voting no.
Two FMF National Campus Organizers, Edwith Theogene and Ashleigh Moses, were working with students and advocates on the ground in Tennessee to defeat Amendment 1. Although they were dismayed by the results, they remain hopeful.
“This is a stumbling block, but by no means an end to everything our students have been working so hard towards,” added Moses. “Right after they realized we were defeated, the students’ first thought was what do we do next to win reproductive rights in Tennessee. The students are still fired up and determine to make sure women’s rights are not denied by a bunch of male politicians.”
Theogene echoed her. “Every county where we organized the student vote, we won – against tight opposition.”
The defeat in Tennessee intensifies the statewide movement to roll back infringements on women’s right to comprehensive reproductive health access. Under the rule of current Governor Bill Haslam (R) – who also won last night – Tennessee laws have turned increasingly sour for women’s reproductive rights, thanks to provisions like the state’s “pregnancy outcome” law and a sex education bill that prohibits instruction related to so-called “gateway sexual activity.” In separate studies, the Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Reproductive Rights have deemed Tennessee one of the most hostile states in the country on abortion rights. Now, analysts say the passage of Amendment 1 is now in direct conflict with a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that deemed abortion “an inherently intimate and personal enterprise” that should be protected from “government interference” by the Tennessee Constitution’s right to privacy laws.
Tuesday night, the Vote No On 1 Campaign tweeted a thank you message to all of their supporters. “We’ll see you soon when the fight continues for privacy rights and women’s access to healthcare.”
Media Resources: Jamestown Sun, 11/4/14; Feminist Newswire 10/30/14, 10/29/14, 8/1/13; Twitter; Colorado Secretary of State; North Dakota Secretary of State; Tennessee Secretary of State