RED-STATE ACTIVISM: An abortion rights rally held earlier this year at the Capitol

As readers of this blog know, signatures are currently being gathered to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would reverse Arkansas’s abortion ban. If passed, the amendment would not allow the state to “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion services within 18 weeks of fertilization.” Those protections would also be extended beyond 18 weeks in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies or “to protect a pregnant female’s life or to protect a pregnant female from a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.”

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The Washington Post highlights these efforts this morning in a well-written piece exploring the uphill battle for abortion rights advocates. It opens with a great anecdote, though it makes me wonder just how many Tony Chisms are out there — the initiative will need a lot of them:

Tony Chism pulled up to the library in a red pickup truck with a “Don’t Tread on Me” plate on the front and a “Biden Sucks” sticker on the back. He settled into a lawn chair and held up a sign showing solidarity with abortion rights activists gathered nearby. 

The 60-year-old conservative was there with his daughter Lela Chism — a 37-year-old liberal — to advance a shared cause: gathering enough signatures to put abortion and five other issues on the ballot this fall, allowing Arkansans the chance to override their state’s total ban on the procedure.

“I think that should be a matter between the mother and her doctor,” said Tony, a two-time Trump voter.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade achieved a decades-long dream for the Republican Party, which has put restricting abortion rights at the top of its agenda. But it has come with a political cost. Undoing Roe’s protections has proven deeply unpopular, providing a lift for Democrats in congressional races.

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Abortion rights have also come out a winner in popular referendums in states across the country, with an undefeated record so far. But Arkansas will be a harder test: A dead-red state dominated by rabidly anti-abortion politicians.

Currently Arkansas has a near total ban on abortion — the only exception is for the life of the mother.

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Activists trying to get signatures are facing stiff opposition from well-funded groups like Arkansas Right to Life, the governor and the entire Republican establishment.

WaPo reports:

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Activists in Arkansas are hoping that more support and money will come later, if their shoestring effort can gather enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. They declined to say how many they have gathered so far, a potential sign of the struggles they face.

“I’m afraid that some people think that we’re a lost cause,” said Veronica McClane, a volunteer leading signature-gathering efforts in Central Arkansas. “We are fighting every single day … and we need help.”

The opposition on the ground in Arkansas is just as impassioned, and some weekends, the two sides come face to face. Dueling presences at a recent farmers market grew heated; the local police department sent an extra patrol. Video posted on social media shows an antiabortion demonstrator growing incensed at being filmed, at one point calling someone a “stupid, ignorant Commie-crat that wants more dead babies.”

Much more in the story on the tensions between Arkansans for Limited Government, the group pushing the initiative (“with a tiny budget and about 500 volunteers”) and the national pro-choice movement, which argues the proposal doesn’t go quite far enough in protecting abortion rights; current fundraising efforts for the group; the standoffs between abortion right activists and the anti-abortion side; the history of the abortion issue in Arkansas; and more. Read the whole thing.

Let’s give our man Tony Chism the last word: “I don’t know why government should be in it.”

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