|FEATURE | fall 2006
A feminist guide to ballot measures that will impact women's lives
This November 7, more
than 100 state ballot initiatives
will offer stark choices
to voters across the country.
Citizens will decide whether to ban
abortion, raise the minimum wage,
prevent same-sex marriage, allow stem-cell research and maintain
affirmative action programs—just to
name a few critical issues. These
particular ones will have a direct
impact on women’s lives.
The initiative process is a long-standing
political tradition in the
U.S. In fact, ballot measures in several
states gave women the right to vote prior to the ratification of the
19th Amendment in 1920. The general process is similar in the 24
states that allow initiatives: A person
or group has an idea, writes a piece
of legislation with a lawyer’s assistance, approves the language with
the secretary of state and gathers a
required number of signatures from
voters to qualify for the ballot. Initiative campaigns can be quite expensive—over $398 million was
spent in 2004 on 59 ballot measures—so these days measures are
more often proposed by corporate
or other special interests than by
The direct democracy of the initiative
process makes it a crucial testing
ground for new political ideas. To give
this year’s ideas a grade, read up on
the initiatives summarized below—then get out in your state and vote.
Reproductive rights *with additional web-exclusive coverage
Affirmative action *with additional web-exclusive coverage
increase the minimum wage and
index future increases to inflation
are on the ballot in Arizona,
Colorado, Missouri, Montana,
Nevada and Ohio. The federal government
hasn’t raised the minimum
wage for nearly a decade (see “The
Sin of Wages,” page 59), so the only
real movement on the issue has been
in 22 states and the District of
Columbia, all of which now have
minimums higher than the $5.15
federal standard. The majority of
U.S. minimum-wage workers aren’t
teenagers, contrary to popular
belief: They’re adult women, nearly one-third of whom have children.
on every feminist’s radar is the current
initiative in South Dakota to
overturn the abortion bill signed into
law this year. The bill outraged
women across the country by including
no exceptions for rape, incest and
a woman’s health, and for its transparent challenge to Roe v. Wade (see “Showdown on the Plains,” page 34).
But two other states’ initiatives also
threaten women’s right to abortion:
Oregon and California voters will
consider laws requiring parental notification
before teenage girls can obtain
an abortion. The California
contest, a rerun of last year’s losing
Prop. 73 campaign, is financially supported
by a publisher of Catholic
newspapers, James Holman.
Additional web-exclusive coverage:
California voters going to the polls on November 7 will be confronted with yet another attempt by abortion opponents to require parental notification for young women under the age of 18 to have an abortion. Proposition 85 is almost identical to Proposition 73, which failed to pass just last year by a vote of 53 to 47 percent.
If passed, the "Parents Right to Know and Child Protection Act" would amend the California Constitution to require that a parent or legal guardian of a young woman under the age of 18 be notified 48 hours before she can legally have an abortion. Failure to comply can lead to civil suits for damages and the suspension or loss of medical license of the person performing the abortion.
The notification requirement can be waived by a judge if it is decided it is not in the best interest of the young woman to inform her parent or guardian of her intention to have an abortion. There is an exception for a medical emergency, but no exceptions for rape or incest are included in the proposal.
In reality, laws mandating notification have the same effect as laws requiring parental consent for a young woman to have an abortion. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), most young women voluntarily involve their parents in their decision to have an abortion. Young women who do not tell their parents often have good reasons for staying quiet. For these young women, "in most instances, mandatory notification poses as much of a danger as mandatory consent," according to CRR. In states where these laws have passed, desperate young women often risk their health and their lives with unsafe or illegal abortions in order to avoid telling their parents.
The November 7 ballot in Oregon will include Measure 43 which would require that a physician send a certified letter - with at least 48 hours notice - to the parent of a young woman 15, 16 or 17 years old who is seeking an abortion. Under existing Oregon law, minors 14 years or younger are already required to obtain parental permission for medical treatment. Under this measure, doctors must also obtain, and keep in their files, a copy of a picture ID of the parent. Non-compliance with the notification requirements can result in civil lawsuits by parents and even loss of medical licenses.
The only alternative to the parental notification is for the young woman to seek a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge from the Oregon Department of Human Services. Administrative Law Judges are not even required to be lawyers and have no special training to hear these appeals.
A similar parental notification measure was defeated by Oregon voters in 1990 by a vote of 52 to 48 percent, and the legislature also failed to pass a bill with similar provisions in 2005.
closely watched Missouri measure
would overturn a ban on stem cell
research that was recently approved
by the state legislature. The effort to
overturn is backed by patients’
groups and medical researchers who
are optimistic about using stem cells
to treat Parkinson’s, diabetes and
even spinal-cord injuries. Supporters
of the ban include far-right pundit
Alan Keyes, speaking on behalf of
Missouri Right to Life, who recently
described stem-cell research as the
moral equivalent of Nazi medical
The so- called “Taxpayer
Bill of Rights” is the most widespread
of this year’s right- wing initiative
strategies. Originally headed to the
ballot in 24 states, its chances have
narrowed to just six states after massive
public outcry and the expression
of misgivings by various tax-limitation
supporters, such as chambers of commerce.
Maine and Oregon will definitely
vote on TABOR, while
TABOR initiatives in Michigan,
Montana, Nebraska and Nevada
were still undergoing legal challenges
at the time of publication. TABOR would severely limit state
spending through a complicated for mula
based on inflation plus population
growth; any new spending
would have to be put to an expensive
public vote. Pushed by national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, TABOR is financed by New York City
real estate investor Howie Rich and
opposed by education advocates,
health and human service organizations,
teachers and firefighters,
among others. Colorado, the only
state to have lived with TABOR
(having passed it in 1992), suspended
the law in 2005 after spending for
K-12 education dropped to almost
last in the nation, the number of
low-income children without health
insurance ballooned and access to
basic vaccines plummeted.
on same-sex marriage may have
swung some voters to Bush in 2004,
will they do the trick again this year?
Eight states are putting the issue to a vote: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho,
Wisconsin, South Dakota, South
Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. In
most of these states, the laws would
not just prevent gay marriage and
civil unions, but eliminate domestic-partner
benefits. On the other hand, Colorado is also offering a measure
to support domestic partnerships. And
unlike the underfunded campaigns
opposing the 2004 gay-marriage
bans, this year’s efforts are better
funded and coordinated, especially in Wisconsin, Arizona and Colorado.
Ward Connerly, the African American
California businessman who spearheaded
ballot measures in California
and Washington state in opposition to affirmative action, has now taken his
road show to Michigan, with an initiative that would end affirmative action
in public education, public employment
and public contracting (see Ms.,
Spring 2006). Foes of the nitiative
believe it will roll back advances
women and minorities have made in
the state and fail to correct still-glaring
inequities—and some suggest that
Connerly seeks to
diminish competition from women- and
minority-owned businesses for
lucrative government contracts.
Additional web-exclusive coverage:
Michigan 's November 7 ballot will include a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would end affirmative action in public university admissions, state employment, and state contracting. The measure is a direct attack on the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that allowed race to remain a factor in admissions at the University of Michigan Law School.
The title of the initiative, The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), and its promoters misled many into signing petitions they thought they were to place a pro-affirmative action measure on the November 7 ballot. A legal challenge to keep the measure off the ballot under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was rejected by a federal judge, who ruled that he could not remove the MCRI from the ballot, as there was no violation of the Voting Rights Act, even though he recognized that the promoters engaged in voter fraud.
Michigan U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow criticized the Michigan state courts, the Board of State Canvassers, secretary of state, attorney general and state Bureau of Elections for failing to investigate the fraud complaints and for not keeping the measure off the ballot.
A preview of the potential consequences of the MCRI can be seen in California , where Proposition 209, also spearheaded by Ward Connerly, passed in 1996. Prop 209 amended the California constitution to prohibit affirmative action in public employment, education, and contracting, effectively ending affirmative action in the state. Among the negative consequences attributed to Prop 209 is a decrease of enrolled black and Latino students in the state's most prestigious universities - Berkeley and Los Angeles . The University of California has also noted a significant decline in the number of female faculty since Proposition 209 was implemented in 1996
Women and minorities also experienced setbacks gaining state contracts following Proposition 209 in California . For example, a 2004 study by Discrimination Research Center (DRC) and Equal Rights Advocates showed that the ban on affirmative action in contracting had reversed "years of progress" women had made in gaining construction jobs under state contracts. Specifically, the percentage of women employed in the construction industry dropped 33 percent following the passage of Prop 209, despite an overall increase in the number of people employed in the construction industry. The DRC also reported that two-thirds of the certified Minority Business Enterprises in the transportation construction industry were gone ten years after Proposition 2009 went into effect.
For a comprehensive report on all qualified 2006 ballot measures, go to www.ballot.org.
Kristina Wilfore is executive director
of the Washington, D.C.-based
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.