NASHVILLE — Pro-life advocates appeared poised to suffer across-the-board losses on five state ballot initiatives voted on Nov. 8 in the first nationwide election since the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision.
The failure to gain passage of a pro-life measure in Kentucky or to defeat constitutional amendments that guarantee abortion rights in California, Michigan and Vermont dealt a troubling setback to Southern Baptists and other Americans who welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June. In addition, the vote totals reported in Montana by midday Wednesday, Nov. 9, seemed to indicate a pro-life proposal would fall short of passage.
By overturning Roe, the high court had returned regulation of abortion to the states and brought an end to a legal regime throughout the country that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 63 million-plus preborn children since 1973.
Abortion-rights advocates have now prevailed in at least five state initiatives since Roe fell. In August, Kansas voters defeated an amendment that would have affirmed that the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion or require public funding of abortion.
Southern Baptist leaders called Wednesday for perseverance in the pro-life cause.
“As a 52-year-old pastor, I recognize that the generation ahead of me fought for 50 years before they saw the reversal of the unconstitutional Roe v. Wade decision,” SBC President Bart Barber told Baptist Press in written comments. “I pray that my generation and the pro-life generations after me will apply the same steadfast diligence to the cause of ending abortion state by state.
“May we not be dissuaded by temporary setbacks,” he said. “May we continue to act in wisdom and truth to defend the lives of babies, each of whom deserves to live.”
Brent Leatherwood, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP the results on these state initiatives, “while not unexpected in some contexts, are disappointing nonetheless.”
“But it confirms something we have said all along: The end of Roe did not mean the end of the pro-life movement but, instead, the beginning of a new chapter where our message of life and serving mothers is going to be taken door to door and neighborhood to neighborhood,” Leatherwood said.
“So we now look to redouble our efforts advocating for the vulnerable and, as one pastor told me just this morning, roll our sleeves up to make abortion unthinkable so we can get to a place where it is illegal.”
In Kentucky, voters defeated a constitutional amendment similar to the one that failed in Kansas. As of 12:30 CST Wednesday (Nov. 9), Amendment 2 trailed by 52-48 percent with an estimated 90 percent of votes counted, according to a report by The New York Times using results from The Associated Press. Kentucky law currently prohibits abortion except to protect the mother’s life or to avert “the serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ” in the mother.
“We are disappointed in the defeat of Amendment 2,” said Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “Legalized abortion is the greatest human rights atrocity of our day, and Kentucky Baptists will continue to work and pray that it remains illegal in our state.
“We are grateful to have an attorney general [Daniel Cameron] who will fight to uphold Kentucky’s pro-life laws in court,” Gray said in a written statement, “and we ask our state legislators to renew their commitment to passing legislation that protects unborn children made in the image of God.”
California, already entrenched as the country’s No. 1 abortion-providing state, approved the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act. By a 65-35 percent margin with an estimated 42 percent of votes reporting, Californians chose to amend their constitution to bar the state from denying or interfering “with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions,” including the right to have an abortion.
Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council (CFC), decried the result.
“Yesterday’s election was disastrous for California,” he told BP in written comments. CFC is a partner with the California Southern Baptist Convention. “Voters overwhelmingly approved one of the most extreme abortion laws in the entire world.
“Through a deceptive and opaque crusade, the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign refused to acknowledge the deadly nature of their amendment. Doctors will now be able to snuff out the lives of precious unborn children up until the moment of birth.”
Keller said, “But our hope does not rest on what happens in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. No matter the final results of Tuesday’s election, California Family Council will continue” its mission, he said. “We have a long road ahead. The journey begins today.”
Michigan’s voters decided to add a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” which includes abortion, to the state’s constitution by 56-44 percent with 89 percent of votes reported. The amendment allows the state to restrict abortion after the preborn child is viable, although it cannot ban the procedure if it is “medically indicated to protect the life or physical or mental health” of the mother.
The amendment nullifies any state law in conflict with it, including a 1931 measure now in the courts that prohibits nearly all abortions.
By a 77-23 percent margin with an estimated 95 percent of votes in, Vermont passed Proposal 5, which protects abortion access by inserting in the state constitution a “right to personal reproductive autonomy.” That right, which includes abortion, can only be thwarted if the state has a compelling interest that can be accomplished “by the least restrictive means.”
In Montana, the total was 52-48 percent against the Born-alive Infant Protection Act with an estimated 82 percent of votes reported. If approved, the measure would require a health-care provider to “take all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life and health” of a child born alive, including one who survives an abortion.
While pro-lifers lost at the polls Tuesday, prohibitions on abortion have taken effect in 15 states since the Supreme Court reversed Roe. It is anticipated about half of the 50 states will enact laws that prohibit abortion either throughout pregnancy or at a stage of pregnancy, although courts have blocked the enforcement of some for now.
Since Roe’s reversal, “[t]otal/near total limits on abortion” have gone into effect in 14 states, according to the latest information from Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-life America. In addition, Florida has a ban in effect on abortion beginning at 15 weeks’ gestation.
“Total/near total” restrictions on abortion in eight states await a final ruling in the courts, SBA Pro-life America reported. A similar prohibition will soon take effect in Iowa, according to the organization.
The states with complete or nearly complete bans on abortion, according to SBA Pro-life America, are: Alabama; Arkansas; Georgia; Idaho; Kentucky; Louisiana; Mississippi; Missouri; Oklahoma; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; West Virginia; and Wisconsin.
Nine days before the Supreme Court’s ruling, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention continued a more-than-four-decade-old pattern of pro-life resolutions by urging the justices to overturn Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that affirmed it. The resolution also urged state legislators to pass “pro-life policies that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, including both vulnerable women and children.” B&R