‘Leave it to the states’ has left me disappointed | Whale’s Tales

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on the grounds that the right to abortion was not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history or tradition,” nor considered a right when the Due Process Clause was ratified in 1868.

The down-with-Roe side had its long-fought-for victory.

Opponents of Roe v. Wade said all along that their aim was to remove the abortion question from the hands of the federal government and return it to the states where it “should have been all along.”

I waited to see this exercise of our purest form of democracy, the citizen-initiated ballot measure, get a workout. Must have missed it.

As events have shown, the anti-Roe crowd never intended to “leave it to the states.” Their plan was to cut ordinary American citizens out of the loop and pitch the thing to the legislatures in those states where the Republican Party held power.

Call me naive, but I always believed that the word “state” in the above reference meant not only the state government and its legislators, but all of the people living within that state’s boundaries.

Citizens whose opinions lawmakers who represent them should consult, but in this case did not, because doing so would have threatened their grip on power.

Historically, whatever party has control of both the governorship and legislature has tried to restrict the voice of a statewide electorate that opposes their efforts to undercut the citizen ballot initiative process.

Abraham Lincoln said on many occasions that he found slavery abhorrent, but he knew the majority of Americans was not with him at the time, so he’d do what he could to restrict slavery’s westward spread as each new state entered the Union. And when Abe entered the White House in 1861, there would be no end-runs around the will of the people.

This present problem is of the pro-life movement’s own making. They never took the measure of Americans, or simply ignored what poll after poll was telling them: that a clear majority wanted abortion legal in some cases. Like others of unwavering righteousness, they tend to believe everyone will back their play, or in this case support a total ban because of course, who wouldn’t? They are righteous.

Five states where Republicans control the legislature — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and North Dakota, and last week Ohio — have either passed, tried to pass, or are working to pass expanded supermajority requirements for voters to approve statewide ballot measures, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Fairness Project.

At least six states, including Ohio, have tried to increase the number of counties where signatures must be gathered. The Fairness Project found that at least six of the 24 states that allow ballot initiatives have prohibited out-of-state petition circulators, and nine have prohibited paid circulators altogether.

There’s an old phrase, but it’s a good one: moving the goal posts. We would not stand for it in our everyday lives, in the contests we enter, in play, in business. Why should we stand for it now?

Eighteen states now mandate that petition circulators swear oaths that they’ve seen every signature written down. The state of Arkansas demands background checks on circulators. South Dakota has ordered such a large font size on petitions that circulating them has become cumbersome.

In Ohio, Republican politicians, anti-abortion and gun rights organizations and business interests in the state pushed forward with that failed amendment, which would have raised the threshold for passing future constitutional changes from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority.

In Missouri, Republicans plan to try again to raise the threshold to amend that state’s constitution during the legislative session that begins in 2024 — after earlier efforts failed.

Ballot measures let working families to get what matters to them on a state agenda, rather than allowing those who can afford lobbyists and campaign contributions to set it for them. As Americans, we must zealously guard our rights here.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.