Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News & Observer. November 13, 2023.
Editorial: NC Republicans won’t let us vote on abortion. They know they’d lose.
A little over a year ago, after voters in Kansas overwhelmingly chose to protect access to abortion, we issued North Carolina Republicans a challenge: Put abortion on the ballot.
On Tuesday, in Ohio, it happened again. Abortion was on the ballot, and abortion won. Voters approved by double digits an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, making Ohio the seventh state to pass such a ballot measure since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year.
So we’re issuing that challenge again. Come on, North Carolina Republicans. Put abortion on the ballot. What are you afraid of?
Unlike Ohio, North Carolina does not allow citizen-led ballot initiatives, but there’s still a way to put constitutional amendments up for a vote. The General Assembly can propose that a constitutional amendment be on the statewide ballot, but the proposal must pass with three-fifths approval in the House and Senate.
We contacted the offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger to ask if they’d be open to such a proposal, but they did not respond to our request for comment.
When legislators passed North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban earlier this year, they insisted it was “mainstream” and “in line with what the majority of North Carolinians believe.” If that’s true, they shouldn’t have a problem with putting it to a test.
Some Republicans argue that allowing voters to weigh in directly on matters of public policy defeats the purpose of having elected representatives. After all, there’s a reason why the United States isn’t a direct democracy. But there’s a difference between using referendums to make nuanced policy decisions and allowing people to weigh in on whether they should have a basic right. Besides, Republicans seemed to be OK with it when they allowed voters to weigh in on same-sex marriage in 2012, and on voter ID in 2018. Why not now?
Of course, there’s a reason why North Carolina Republicans won’t put abortion on the ballot. They don’t want to fight a battle they’re likely to lose. They don’t want to know what the majority of North Carolinians actually believe, because it might not line up with what they want. If voters in red states like Ohio and Kansas can preserve access to abortion, then North Carolina can, too.
Seeing the success of abortion measures, Republicans across the country have been trying to make it harder for voters to amend state constitutions with ballot initiatives. In fact, Ohio Republicans tried to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments, but voters resoundingly rejected that proposal back in August. They’ve also used misleading language to try to trick voters into shooting down abortion measures. It hasn’t worked.
Even when abortion isn’t directly on the ballot, though, it’s still a losing issue for Republicans. In Virginia, Republicans centered their efforts to take control of the state legislature around a proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. They intentionally referred to it as a “limit” instead of a “ban,” hoping the tempered language would win over moderate voters. It didn’t. Democrats retained control of one chamber of the legislature and flipped the other. And in Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won re-election with abortion rights a major focus of his campaign.
There are signs that North Carolina Republicans are wary of public opinion on abortion. They object to the characterization of the state’s 12-week abortion ban as a “ban.” Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the likely GOP nominee for governor, has softened his rhetoric on abortion, while members of his party have attempted to downplay his past public statements on the issue. Republicans will benefit, too, from new gerrymandered maps designed to preserve a GOP supermajority in both chambers of the legislature — at least somewhat insulating them from any potential backlash to the abortion ban they passed earlier this year.
But instead of searching for ways to obfuscate and ignore the will of the voters, Republicans should let them have a voice. Just like voters in Ohio, and Kansas, and Michigan, North Carolinians deserve the chance to determine the path our state will follow on an issue as critical as abortion. They should get a say in a matter that so deeply affects their bodies and their lives.