Abortion rights are popular among voters—no wonder that in Kansas, Montana, Ohio, and now Missouri anti-abortion leaders are doing everything they can to spread disinformation and prevent state-wide elections to decide abortion rights.
Last month, Ohio voters rejected an undemocratic bid by the state’s anti-abortion Secretary of State that would’ve required ballot measures to receive at least 60% of the vote to take effect, instead of a simple majority. This scheme, Ohio’s anti-abortion front hoped, would have made it substantially more difficult for a November ballot measure meant to enshrine abortion rights to pass.
Now, Missouri Republicans have reached new levels of shamelessness in their own ongoing battle to impede an abortion rights ballot measure that would amend the state constitution. (Being among the first states to ban abortion once Roe v. Wade fell seemingly wasn’t enough.)
After spending months trying to stall Missouri organizers’ efforts to collect the signatures required to get their proposed amendment on the ballot, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wrote a deliberately heinous summary of the proposal as it would appear to voters. His summary claims the amendment would allow “dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice.”
Ashcroft, who’s coincidentally running for governor in 2024, further claims that the amendment would “nullify longstanding Missouri law protecting the right to life, including but not limited to partial-birth abortion” and require taxpayer dollars to cover abortion (which would be delightful if true, but isn’t!). In reality, the proposed amendment would simply stop the government from infringing on any Missourian’s “fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”
The inaccurate language wielded by Ashcroft comes amid escalating right-wing misinformation around later abortion (more on that shortly) and is a testament to how Republicans increasingly rely on baseless talking points about abortion “up until birth”—because they know abortion is popular when put to a vote, and all they can do is obfuscate, confuse, and lie their asses off. And contrary to Ashcroft’s summary, abortion is highly safe—certainly safer than forced pregnancy—and feticide isn’t on the table.
Now, abortion rights advocates in the state are suing to challenge Ashcroft’s language on the ballot. “It is the secretary’s duty to set aside his personal bias against the proposals and craft a neutral statement,” Missouri ACLU attorney Tony Rothert told the Cole County Court judge during a Monday hearing. “Instead, the secretary acted as if he were playing the political-spin and manipulation-edition of mad libs.” Abortion rights advocates in the state aren’t able to begin the process of collecting signatures to get on the ballot until a decision is reached.
And this development is just the latest development in Missouri, where abortion is completely banned with narrow, theoretical exceptions for specific medical emergencies.
To get a proposed measure on the ballot requires a cost estimate from a state auditor; in Missouri’s case, Republican auditor Scott Fitzpatrick determined the measure would cost the state just $51,000 per year. In the spring, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) refused to sign off on the cost estimate. Instead, Bailey contended the measure would cost upwards of $12 billion, making the bogus claim that the right to abortion would decimate the workforce and thus tank the economy.
FWIW, we’ve heard this before: Last year, House Republicans blamed depleted social security funds on abortion reducing the “supply” (vomit) of future workers. The website for House Republicans’ Ways and Means Committee further claims “abortion shrinks the labor force” and “if all of these aborted babies had been otherwise carried to term and survived…they would add nearly 20 percent to the current U.S. population, and nearly 45 million would be of working age.” Nebraska Republicans made similar arguments earlier this year, and as did Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott. In reality, of course, while there are far stronger reasons to support abortion rights than for the good of capitalism, abortion can be what permits women and people with uteruses to remain in the workforce at all.
Bailey stalled the process of collecting signatures for the ballot measure by refusing to approve Fitzpatrick’s cost analysis for weeks...until the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling against him.
Missouri Republicans are now pivoting to all-out disinformation, claiming, through Ashcroft’s summary, that the proposed amendment will result in “babies” aborted “up until birth.” Let’s be clear: This is deliberately jarring terminology used to stigmatize later abortions. Though most abortions take place in the first trimester, later abortions do happen, sometimes due to extreme fetal conditions or as a result of delayed access to abortion. As Mother Jones’ Madison Pauly pointed out, later abortion seekers tend to be among the most marginalized: “Some are extremely young. Survivors of abuse. Often, also, without resources.” Also: Reason doesn’t matter.
But Republicans and Democrats alike spout varying levels of misinformation about “fetal viability,” which is itself a relic of faulty, Roe-era abortion policy. Republicans claim Democrats want abortions past this point—often understood by politicians, but not OBGYNs, as the 24-week mark at which a fetus can theoretically survive outside the womb—and Democrats insist that they don’t. But the reality is that “viability” is medically imprecise, and any sort of lawmaking that polices abortion at any stage places pregnant people in danger. All of this is, obviously, layered and a little complicated, but Ashcroft’s summary deliberately simplifies it in the worst, most stigmatizing way. It could also place later abortion patients and providers at risk of violence.
Still, abortion rights advocates tend to struggle on whether and how to talk about later abortion, and that tension is easily exploited by anti-abortion activists. Missouri abortion rights advocates are challenging Ashcroft’s language in court but haven’t figured out whether their proposed amendment would address viability or not if it gets to the ballot, Mother Jones reports. But as we await a ruling, let’s call Ashcroft’s summary what it is: an effort to make a common-sense proposal look extreme.
Last summer, Kansas Republicans issued a whole range of lies to justify their anti-abortion measure—for example, that in removing the right to abortion from the state Constitution, they had no plans to actually ban abortion (lie), and that their measure was pro-women (lie). Montana Republicans’ ballot measure claiming to protect fetuses “born alive” from abortions was one big lie. In Ohio, after Republicans’ failure to make the abortion ballot measure much harder to pass, their ballot board wants to refer to a fetus as an “unborn child” in the summary of the abortion rights measure that will appear on ballots.
The anti-abortion movement has long been anti-democracy—before its efforts against the wave of post-Roe ballot measures, Republicans relied on gerrymandered state legislatures and voter suppression to pass anti-abortion laws. All because abortion rights are popular and forced birth is not.