Austin, TX — Last week, the Fairness Project led a panel of experts at South by Southwest 2024 in Austin, Texas, in a discussion about how voters have the power to defend reproductive freedom and democratic rights using ballot measures. Fairness Project Executive Director Kelly Hall moderated the discussion with Chris Love of Arizona for Abortion Access, Luz María Henríquez of the ACLU of Missouri, and Prentiss Haney of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

The Fairness Project’s session, “Ballot Measures: How Voters Protect Abortion and Democracy,” covered how voters in several states have secured their reproductive freedom at the ballot box, with more at stake in 2024. Henríquez and Love, representing active campaigns to secure abortion rights in Missouri and Arizona, respectively, noted the enthusiasm among voters for protecting reproductive freedom outside of a partisan binary.

“The beautiful thing about ballot measures, particularly this reproductive freedom one — restoring access to abortion in a state that has a total abortion ban — really transcends all party lines,” said Luz María Henríquez, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We know that the majority of Missourians oppose the total abortion ban that is in Missouri today… In the first few weeks that we publicly launched the Missourians for Constitutional Freedom campaign, the number of volunteers who signed up in the first two weeks was more than any other campaign had seen over the course of the entire campaign in Missouri.”

“We’re talking to people across the board about the issue of enshrining abortion in our constitution. Folks may be red, may be blue, but we need to make sure that our message is something that speaks to everyone regardless of what their party affiliation is,” said Chris Love, senior advisor to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. “What we’ve found that’s been the thing that connects everyone is talking about freedom to make… their own health care decisions without interference from politicians or the government. In a state like Arizona, where we have an independent streak, and Arizonans don’t like to be told what to do, that message about freedom has really resonated with folks from across the state.”

The panelists also spoke extensively about active threats to the ballot measure process coming from politicians who are opposed to voters taking matters into their own hands. Last August in Ohio, legislators attempted to further restrict the ballot measure process ahead of a proposed reproductive rights amendment. Their efforts to restrict direct democracy failed, and the abortion rights measure won.

“[Ballot initiatives] help us create a real process of agency where regular people can decide what they want to see happen with their government,” said Prentiss Haney, strategic advisor to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. “When we engaged with the Fairness Project on a number of different fights like in August… we were able to go out and talk to our voters about: if we keep this process open, we can pass abortion rights. We can pass a fair minimum wage. We can make sure that we’re legalizing marijuana and other issues that matter to our community. People were ready to go up and fight, yes, because they want access, but more than anything, disaffected communities want agency.”

Read more about the Fairness Project’s active 2024 campaigns here.

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