Utah Law Professor: Referendum Votes Confirm Support for Abortion

Utah Law Professor: Referendum Votes Confirm Support for Abortion

Afterwards The voters of Kansas refused proposed state constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to enact abortion restrictions this summer, several other states have taken the issue to voters.

On Tuesday, voters in Michigan, California and Vermont amended their state constitutions to include reproductive rights. In Kentucky, voters narrowly rejected an amendment that would have said there was no right to an abortion.

Montanans, meanwhile, voted on a legislative referendum that would require mandatory medical interventions to save what the state defines as “live-born” infants, including fetuses diagnosed as non-viable. The referendum would also establish criminal penalties for health care providers who refuse to intervene. Voting is too close to being called and ballot counting is not yet complete, according to the Montana Secretary of State’s election website.

University of Utah law professor Teneille Brown said the referendums are a powerful check on the 6-3 Supreme Court decision support Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law and 5-4 vote that overturn Roe v. Wade this has led to all but outright bans on the procedure in about half of the states.

“The Supreme Court is not meant to be a political body, but of course it is. It is increasingly being revealed that his politics are indeed far right. So, they are almost extremists, and we can see that from the way the public voted in these referendums, where they very clearly wanted to include bodily autonomy and reproductive rights in state constitutions. So I think it’s exciting to see people show up,” Brown said.

Brown, who specializes in bioethics, biomedical science, biotechnology and torts, says she sometimes worries that referendums are too often used to make trivial changes to statutes.

“But when it comes to personal freedom, autonomy, it does not look like a trivial use of the referendum process at all. Important rights are at stake,” Brown said.

Brown sees the language of some referendums as problematic.

Bowling Green, Kentucky, television station WNKY reported that the language of the vote in the Bluegrass State left some voters wondering “What exactly will my ‘yes’ vote or my ‘no’ vote mean?”

Brown said framing the referendum as negative was confusing and bad practice.

“You don’t want people who are serious and trying to educate themselves about what they should be doing and making sure it aligns with their values ​​as they want to feel like, ‘I don’t know what this is telling me,'” she said. he said.

According to Guttmacher Institute, Kentucky’s abortion laws are considered among the most restrictive in the nation. Abortion is completely prohibited with very limited exceptions. A medical abortion must be performed in person because the state prohibits the use of telehealth pills or mail-order pills, among other provisions.

As another example, Montana’s ballot question uses language that doctors don’t know how to define, she said.

Brown said many state abortion laws use “terminology that is not medical at all. That’s not the way doctors make decisions,” and yet they are subject to penalties under the proposed referendum.

“That law in Montana was super weird because it says that doctors have a duty to make every effort to save a fetus or a baby that is ‘born alive.’ But if it is really alive and able to survive, of course, the doctors will make every effort. It is already part of their canons of medical ethics and professional obligations. They could be sued for malpractice because they did not make every effort to save the baby who was born alive,” she said.

Asked if the successful passage of this referendum heralds more state initiatives or referendums in the upcoming election, Brown said the outcome of Tuesday’s election was “definitely encouraging that this is the way to protect rights to a greater extent than the federal government is doing.”

In states where lawmakers are more conservative than the electorate, referendums are an important tool for achieving political change, she said.

“That could be a tool in Utah, if we could get women to see that their reproductive rights are important and that it’s an equal protection issue. It’s not just about freedom. It’s about equal protection before the law,” she said.

Utah lawmakers passed a trigger law 2020 that bans most abortions if Roe is overturned. Enforcement of the law remains on hold amid ongoing litigation by Planned Parenthood of Utah and the ACLU of Utah.

Utah’s trigger law it went into effect on June 24, the same day the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that granted women the right to an abortion.

SB174 allows abortions only if the mother’s life is endangered, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if two physicians practicing “maternal-fetal medicine” both determine that the fetus “has a defect that is uniformly diagnosed and uniformly fatal or . .. has a severe brain abnormality that can be uniformly diagnosed.”

Last month, Utah again banned abortion blocked from taking effect after the Utah Supreme Court said it would allow a lower court injunction stay put.

It is unclear whether the Utah ballot question would result in a different outcome than the existing law.

Public opinion poll conducted for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics last spring found that 46% of Utahns say abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest and threats to the mother’s health.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, sponsor of SB174, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the outcome of the state referendum.

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