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Abortion-related initiatives on ballot in five states


NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptists and other citizens in five states will make decisions in the Nov. 8 elections on abortion policies that vary from proposals intended to protect preborn children to those that would guarantee far-reaching access to the lethal procedure.

The ballot initiatives have taken on heightened significance since the U.S. Supreme Court returned the regulation of abortion to the states in a June decision. In that ruling, the high court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.

Voters in Kentucky and Montana will cast ballots on pro-life measures, while citizens of California, Michigan and Vermont will determine the fate of proposed constitutional amendments that would protect abortion rights.

Decisions on these proposals will come in the wake of prohibitions on abortion taking 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.

Southern Baptist ethics leader Brent Leatherwood pointed to the role the church’s message can play in ballot proposals.

“Now as much as ever, our churches must continue proclaiming the truth about the dignity of every life, particularly the unborn,” said Leatherwood, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Doing so will stir the hearts of individuals to act on behalf of those who have no voice.

“These statewide initiatives and amendments present opportunities to apply those principles by either establishing a legitimate culture of life in our state laws or preventing them from becoming further entrenched as pro-abortion destinations,” he told Baptist Press in written comments.

“Voting in such a way that respects and protects the sanctity of life is one helpful avenue Baptists can engage what the [Baptist Faith and Message] calls ‘the means and methods for the improvement of our society (Article XV),’” Leatherwood said. “And what an improvement it would be when we reach a moment where each preborn life has the opportunity to take his or her first breath!”

In Kentucky, voters will have the opportunity to approve an amendment that will clarify the state constitution is not to be interpreted “to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the [public] funding of abortion.”

In an advisory regarding Amendment No. 2, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the measure would not prohibit abortion in the state if passed. It “simply means that decisions on regulating abortion will be made” by legislators, not judges, Cameron said. 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.

Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), told Baptist Press, “Kentucky Baptists have an historic opportunity to vote our pro-life convictions on November 8th.”

Amendment No. 2 “essentially protects the pro-life laws that have already been passed by our state lawmakers” and bans taxpayer funds from paying for abortions, Gray said in written remarks.

The KBC “is part of an alliance that is working to pass the amendment,” he said. “Legalized abortion is the greatest human rights atrocity of our day. We can protect children from abortion by voting ‘yes’ on Amendment 2.”

Montana’s citizens will vote on a referendum known as the Born-alive Infant Protection Act, which requires a child born alive, including one who survives an abortion, to “be treated as a legal person under the laws of the state.” The measure, which was approved by the legislature and sent to the voters, mandates a health-care provider “take all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life and health of the infant.”

Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, said he is “delighted that the citizens of Montana will have the opportunity to mandate life-saving and life-sustaining medical treatment for every child born alive in this state, regardless of how that baby comes into the world.”

“Every human being bears the image of our Creator and should be treated with the utmost respect and care,” Duke told BP in a written statement. “This referendum enables us to ensure that our medical community will do everything in their power to save the life and health of each of these invaluable souls.”

California, already the No. 1 abortion-providing state, will further solidify its status if voters approve the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act. The proposal, approved and referred to voters by the legislature, would amend the state 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), told BP, “Despite passing more than a dozen extreme bills through the legislature, California’s abortion advocates are pushing even further. Proposition 1 would enshrine abortion until birth in the state constitution and make it nearly impossible to prohibit killing children in the womb.

“Southern Baptist Churches have a vital opportunity to reach women facing unplanned pregnancies with Jesus’ love and hope,” he said in written comments.

CFC is a partner with the California Southern Baptist Convention.

Michigan’s voters will decide if a new “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” which includes abortion, will be added to the state’s constitution. The amendment would permit the state to restrict abortion after the preborn child is viable, although it could not ban the procedure if it is “medically indicated to protect the life or physical or mental health” of the mother.

If adopted, the amendment would nullify any state law that conflicts with it, including a 1931 measure now in the courts that prohibits nearly all abortions.

Vermont’s Proposal 5 also would protect abortion access by inserting in the state constitution a “right to personal reproductive autonomy” that it describes as “central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course.” That right, which includes abortion, could only be impeded if the state has a compelling interest that can be accomplished “by the least restrictive means.”

In August, Kansas voters defeated in a vote of 59-41 percent an amendment to affirm the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion or require public funding of abortion. The rejection of the Value Them Both Amendment came in the first statewide vote on abortion after Roe’s reversal.

In legislative and executive actions, West Virginia became in mid-September the latest state to enact a ban on abortions. That brings to 14 the number of states with “[t]otal/near total limits on abortion” in effect as of Oct. 10, Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-life America reported. 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.

In addition to West Virginia, 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; and Wisconsin.

The state laws in effect or pending in the court will prohibit more than 205,000 abortions, according to SBA Pro-life America’s estimate.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization affiliated with the abortion rights movement, has estimated 26 states are sure or likely to prohibit abortion within a year after Roe’s reversal.

Since the high court overturned Roe, 66 abortion clinics in 15 states have halted performances of the procedure as of Oct. 2, the 100th day after the decision, Guttmacher reported. No clinics are offering abortions in 14 of the 15 states, according to the report.

Nine days before the Supreme Court’s ruling, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention continued a more-than-four-decades-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.”