07/29/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Cost of Playing Defense on Women's Health


Over the last 10 years, there have been 14 statewide ballot measures attacking women's health. These attacks, taken as a whole, reveal an extremist position that voters have consistently rejected.

Take for example, the so-called "personhood" laws. These laws are an attempt to insert government into decisions that should be kept between a woman, her family and her doctor -- private decisions related to birth control, fertility treatments and management of miscarriages. It's a position so extreme that even pro-life voters think it's a bad idea.

This year is no different. Three measures attacking women have qualified for ballots in November:

  • Colorado Amendment 67: A "personhood" measure that would outlaw abortion in Colorado without exceptions.
  • North Dakota Measure 1: A "personhood" measure that would outlaw abortion in North Dakota without exceptions.
  • Tennessee Amendment 1: A constitutional attack on privacy rights that could allow politicians to pass onerous restrictions on abortions, without regard for if a woman's health is in danger or she's a victim of rape or incest.

The cost of fighting these attacks over the last 10 years has been significant. All told, women's health advocates have spent over $43 million playing defense on ballot measures.

That's a staggering amount. But the true cost is even greater.

With each defensive campaign comes huge outlays of time and energy -- two vital resources that are hard to quantify in a campaign's bottom line. Just imagine what passionate advocates could do with all that time and energy (and money) were they not stuck playing defense.

There is also an emotional toll to consider. People are fatigued by constant attacks. Conversely, research conducted by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center has shown that voters are extremely motivated -- a critical metric for ballot-measure campaigns -- by the opportunity to vote for something they support.

With that in mind, perhaps there is an opportunity to turn the tide and play a little offense of our own.

In recent years, voters have stood up and protected women when these issues are on the ballot.

  • Voters in Colorado have twice defeated so-called personhood measures, once in 2008 with 73 percent voting 'no' and again in 2010 with 70.5 percent voting 'no.' The opposition came from Republicans, Independents and Democrats.
  • Voters in Mississippi -- the most conservative state in the union -- defeated a personhood ballot initiative by a 16-point margin in 2011. A repeat effort couldn't get enough support to qualify for the ballot this year.
  • Personhood supporters in Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, California, Oregon and Montana were unable to get enough support to qualify for the ballot in those states in 2012.
  • Just last year, in a municipal election in Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters soundly defeated a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

These victories are cause for optimism and, potentially, opportunities to advance issues that support women.

This November, it remains critical to educate voters about what's at stake for women. The ballot measures in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee cannot be ignored. But as we look ahead to 2016, 2018 and beyond, we must think about how we can use our resources to advance a proactive agenda.

It's time to consider playing a little offense of our own.