In addition to the Presidential election and several Senatorial and Gubernatorial races, citizens around the nation had the opportunity to vote on a number of ballot measures impacting sexual and reproductive health. Measures that would have restricted a woman’s right to choose were defeated across the board in California, Colorado, and South Dakota, while bans on gay marriage were approved in Arizona, California, and Florida as was a ban on adoption by unmarried couples in Arkansas.
Abortion Rights Ballot Measures
California defeated Proposition 4 which represented the third attempt to pass a parental notification bill in the state. The proposition would have added an amendment to the state Constitution prohibiting minors from obtaining an abortion until 48 hours after a doctor notifies the minor’s parent or legal guardian. Voters rejected the measure 52 to 48 percent; in previous years the breakdown was similar.
Still, proponents of the measure, which included the Knights of Columbus, are likely to try a fourth time to pass such an amendment. An estimated $2.6 million was spent by the amendment organizers to get Proposition 4 on the ballot and pass it in 2008 alone. Opponents to the measure spent an estimated $8.2 million.
In Colorado, Amendment 48 would have defined “personhood” at fertilization. The amendment was an attempt to circumvent abortion rights, but overwhelmingly failed 73 to 27 percent. The amendment was considered extreme even within the anti-choice movement, with the National Right to Life refusing to endorse it.
South Dakota voters also had the opportunity to weigh in on a measure seeking to severely restrict access to abortion in the state. Measure 11, which was very similar to a measure on the ballot two years ago, would have banned all abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or to prevent a serious threat to the health of the mother. Voters turned down the measure 55 to 45 percent, an increase in support for abortion rights from two years ago.
Leslee Unruh, the major proponent and author of Measure 11, is the founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a leader in the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry. Unruh also operates the Alpha Center, a crisis pregnancy center, in South Dakota. After the measure’s defeat Unruh said, “You haven’t seen anything yet. ... For me, it’s a way of life.”
Gay Marriage Ballot Measures
California voters also had the opportunity to vote on Proposition 8 which would add language to the state Constitution stating that, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” contradicting the state Supreme Court’s earlier decision regarding marriage. The May 2008 decision struck down two state laws that limited marriage to between only and man and a woman.
The state’s voters approved the proposition 52 to 48 percent, denying same-sex couples the right to marry moving forward and putting the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed since May 2008 in question. On November 15, protests against Proposition 8 were held on every state under the umbrella group Join the Impact.
Arizona and Florida also voted to ban gay marriage; in Arizona, Proposition 102 passed 56 to 44 percent and in Florida Amendment 2 passed 62 to 38 percent. Two years ago, voters in Arizona rejected a ban which included civil unions and domestic partner benefits.
Finally, the state of Arkansas passed Initiative 1, by a 57 to 43 percent margin, banning all unmarried couples from adopting children, making it only the second state in the nation after Utah to pass such a restriction.
Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) commented on the election results, “While we feel that this historic Presidential election gives us many reasons to be optimistic, we cannot ignore the disturbing outcomes of several ballot initiatives across the country. Thankfully, a number of ballot initiatives designed to restrict abortion and reproductive rights failed, but it seems that the lesbian and gay community took the brunt of the extreme Right Wing’s fury.” To read the entire statement, click here.
 Josh Richman, “Prop. 4 backers likely to try a fourth time,” Oakland Tribune, (9 November 2008), accessed 10 November 2008, <http://www.insidebayarea.com/timesstar/localnews/ci_10936012>.
 Josh Richman, “Prop. 4 backers likely to try a fourth time.”
 Terry Woster, “Abortion fight keys on S.D.,” The Argus Leader, (9 November 2008), accessed 10 November 2008, http://www.argusleader.com/article/20081109/NEWS/811090301/1001