Mississippi lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give citizens back the right to vote on ballot initiatives—except on laws about abortion access.
State residents were stripped of their right to introduce citizen-led ballot initiatives in 2021. This new bill, introduced Tuesday, would allow them to propose changes to laws but not constitutional amendments. They would also not be allowed to “propose any new law or amend or repeal any existing law relating to abortion.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer to roll back the nationwide right to an abortion. The case concerned the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks. After the ruling, Mississippi’s trigger law went into effect, and abortion is now illegal in the state except in cases of rape or incest or to save the pregnant person’s life.
Opinion regarding abortion in Mississippi is almost evenly split. A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 49 percent of state residents believe the procedure should be legal in all or most cases. In July 2022, a month after the Dobbs ruling, a poll conducted by Blueprint Polling for the ACLU of Mississippi found that 51 percent of state residents disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Mississippi residents also rejected a previous ballot initiative aimed at curbing abortion access. In 2011, anti-abortion groups put the Personhood Amendment on the ballot. The amendment would have defined the word “person” in the state constitution to include fertilized human eggs. An overwhelming majority of voters, 58 percent, rejected the initiative.
Lawmakers in Mississippi have a history of using the right to ballot initiatives as a punitive tool. It has been taken away twice, once in 1922 and again in 2021, because officials disagreed with the results of citizen-led ballot initiatives.
If the measure passes the state legislature, it would be just another instance of lawmakers creating loopholes to continue restricting abortion, instead of letting the people decide what they want for themselves. This has also happened in Kentucky, where a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to prosecute people who get illegal abortions for criminal homicide, despite state residents voting in the 2022 midterms against an amendment that would have said abortion is not a protected right in the state.
The most egregious example is Kansas, where residents voted overwhelmingly in August to keep abortion protections in the state constitution. Lawmakers responded by introducing a bill that would let individual cities and counties restrict abortion, directly circumventing the will of the people.