Anti-Abortion Logic #1: Hiding the Ball

Welcome to anti-abortion logic, a recurring series where I explain the lie-filled arguments that activists and politicians make to try defend their repugnant, forced birth positions.

Anti-Abortion Logic #1: Hiding the Ball
Photo by Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

Welcome to anti-abortion logic, a recurring series where I explain the lie-filled arguments that activists and politicians make to try defend their repugnant, forced birth positions.

Pro-choice ballot measures are a giant threat to anti-abortion activists, because *gasp* it turns out access to abortion is very popular. Ahead of a court hearing about Florida's proposed ballot measure, I want to briefly explain a tactic I've been seeing in recent weeks and months. It's this: Acting like there's no need to vote for an amendment to enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution because abortion is (partially) legal right now—no matter if much stricter laws are waiting in the wings. I call it hiding the ball, but it's really a lie of omission.

We saw this strategy in Ohio last fall, where activists told people the procedure was legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy and conveniently didn't mention that fact was only true because a judge had blocked a 6-week ban, but the state Supreme Court could have let it take effect at any time. (The ballot measure passed, codifying a right to abortion through viability*, and that ban is still blocked.)

Today, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments from the state Attorney General Ashley Moody who says the proposed abortion measure, Amendment 4, should be disqualified because of its ballot summary. The ballot group hit the verified signature threshold in early January, but Moody claims, among other things, that voters don't know what "fetal viability" means. (The court has until April 1 to issue a ruling; if approved, it would need to hit 60 percent in November to pass.)

If Florida voters were to pass Amendment 4, it would be a gigantic deal as the procedure is currently banned after 15 weeks there. (The state has also been a regional haven for abortion, as people in the surrounding states are living under near-total bans.) But—wait for it—the state Supreme Court could still rule that a currently blocked 6-week ban could take effect. Amendment 4 could mean that neither a 6-week or 15-week ban are constitutional.

So guess what's happening? Activists are hiding the ball. Here's a line from post on Live Action: "Abortion in the state is currently legal through 15 weeks of pregnancy." That's not the whole truth! They quote an activist interviewed by the Washington Post, and that story mentions the dormant 6-week trigger ban, but Live Action does not include that detail.

I also saw evidence of this strategy in Arizona, where a ballot measure campaign is still collecting signatures in a state with a 15-week ban and a currently blocked ban dating to 1846, before Arizona was a state.

The Arizona Republic reported how an anti-abortion group is using similar tactics as people did in Ohio, and one activist took issue. Olivia Escobedo, political director for It Goes Too Far, told the outlet, "Arizona, number one, is not Ohio. We think for ourselves. And in Arizona, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks. That's already four months and voters support limits." There it is! She's ignoring the chance that the pre-statehood ban could take effect, as it already did for a brief period in 2022.

Escobedo told a different publication that the group's goal is to prevent the measure from even getting on the ballot. She refused to share that strategy with the Arizona Mirror, but Politico reported that advocates including Students for Life of America are working on "decline to sign" campaigns in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Missouri. (As noted above, that didn't work in Florida.) Basically, these activists want to lull people into a false sense of safety about abortion access so they don't feel the need to support codifying protections.

If you live in a state with an abortion ballot proposal, beware of people telling you not to sign a petition or not to vote for the eventual measure because things are fine just the way they are—they're not! Maybe you don't want to sign because the proposal doesn't offer enough protection for women and pregnant people, but that's a different calculus entirely.


  • I just did a longer post on why progressive advocates believe enshrining Roe's viability limits in state constitutions is harmful and their belief that the movement should fight to truly keep the government out of healthcare, so do give that a read.
  • Thanks for reading and sharing. It brings me joy to think of people armed with talking points for conversations with friends and/or relatives who are either conservative or simply susceptible to sneaky-ass political messaging. Spread the gospel, reproductive freedom fans.