Voters sent a clear message this Election Day that they are tired of divisive politics over abortion. They do not want to criminalize abortion or make it harder to get one; they simply want pragmatic approaches that recognize the real-life circumstances women and men face and that respect their right to make their own decisions.
Bans and restrictions in South Dakota, Colorado, and California were squarely defeated, despite millions of dollars spent to garner support for the efforts. In addition to voting down those measures, Americans elected a president who genuinely supports all of a woman’s pregnancy options—the real meaning of pro-choice—as well as at least an additional 15 representatives and 5 senators who do too.
South Dakota Initiated Measure 11 would have banned abortion, with nominal exceptions for rape, incest, and the life or health of the woman. The extremists behind this law added narrowly drawn exceptions after their previous attempt—a near-total ban on abortion—was defeated in 2006. They hoped the changes would make their initiative easier to swallow and give them a vehicle to eventually challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. Instead, the voters saw through their cynical ploy and rejected the measure by a 10-point margin of 55 to 45 percent. The new exceptions only managed to move less than 1 percent of the electorate. And in terms of real numbers, more voters actually opposed the ban than did in 2006—this year’s margin was 38,959, compared to the 2006 margin of 37,297.
Colorado’s Amendment 48 was defeated by a resounding landslide of 73 to 27 percent. The provision would have assigned legal personhood to embryos, with the attendant result of prohibiting abortion, popular forms of contraception, certain practices related to fertility treatments, and promising scientific research. Fortunately, Coloradans understood the sweeping nature of this measure and recognized that in a pluralistic society such as ours, some people’s definition of when life begins, no matter how sincere or deeply held, should not be mandated for everyone by law. Yet despite the utter failure of this effort, the radical right plans to take this campaign to other states.
California’s Proposition 4, which would have required parental notification for a minor’s abortion, was a closer call, but was still defeated by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. This is the third time in four years that voters have fought back this attempt to change their state constitution and put vulnerable teens at risk. One would think the amendment’s backers would learn their lesson, but they have already announced their intent to try again.
Imagine the real change society could accomplish if we stopped fighting over antiabortion ballot initiatives and instead spent our money, time, and energy helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies and supporting their decisions to continue or end unexpected pregnancies when they occur. Perhaps we would have the resources to provide women with adequate prenatal care and birthing options, healthy living and working conditions, accurate sex education and affordable contraception, protection from violence and sexual abuse, and unobstructed access to compassionate abortion care.
Americans want more solutions, not more fighting. There are plenty of common ground measures that we should be able to work on together to address abortion without restricting women’s rights. The voters have spoken loudly and clearly. It is time for antiabortion activists to listen.