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National NOW Times >> Winter 2007  >> Article

Voters Support Reproductive Rights and Minimum Wage

By Melody Drnach, Action Vice President and Meaghan Lamarre, Internet Communications Coordinator

 After months of dedication from NOW and other women's right activists, voters defeated the South Dakota abortion ban.

NOW staff photo by Lisa Bennett

After months of dedication from NOW and other women's right activists, voters defeated the South Dakota abortion ban.

While much of the focus of the midterm elections had been on the shift of power in Congress, voters also considered many crucial ballot measures. Women's rights activists won on two key issues: abortion rights and minimum wage increases.

South Dakota Voters Reject Abortion Ban

NOW activists and NOW Foundation staff were part of the successful campaign to win one of the most watched ballot initiatives. Voters, by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, rejected the most restrictive abortion ban legislation in the country, which was clearly intended as a challenge to Roe v. Wade — sending a signal to legislators that voters won't eliminate access to legal and safe abortion.

There's already a new NOW chapter there, and activists in South Dakota know they can't rest — they plan on making sure that incoming legislators are reminded of the defeat. Unfortunately, the primary media campaign on our side was focused on the fact that there was no exception for survivors of rape or incest, and secondarily on the lack of a health exception.

As a result, we may be facing another abortion ban bill in the spring, but with a rape and incest exception. That would mean another expensive campaign next fall, with a new message — and if there is another campaign we must put women, all women, at the center of that effort.

California and Oregon Keep Teens Safe

Young women's interests prevailed in the fight to protect abortion rights in both California and Oregon, where NOW activists helped defeat dangerous parental notification initiatives. Opponents of the initiative were successful in educating voters about the facts and the stakes. The great majority of young women do involve a parent in their decision, but for a girl who simply can't do safely — or fears trying — the alternative of forcing her into a dangerous back-alley abortion or an unwanted pregnancy are too great a price.

"California NOW activists were leaders in the fight for The Campaign for Real Teen Safety," said Wendy Rae Hill, a National NOW board member who volunteered on the statewide "No on 85" Campaign. California's successful strategies included expanding the coalition of organizations involved in the campaign to include doctors, nurses, teachers, labor, clergy and civil rights organizations. California NOW activists raised more than $53,000 for the campaign and donated more than 1,300 volunteer hours. California voters defeated a similar measure in 2005, and California NOW is already ramping up for a third attempt in 2008. Hill says, "Bring it on! In this case, the third time will NOT be the charm."

In Oregon, voters defeated a nearly identical parental notification initiative, which would have required written notice to a parent before a teen between the ages of 15 and 17 could have an abortion. Oregon law already requires teens 14 and under to obtain parental consent for any medical treatment, even though those parents would have no obligation to raise or support the unwanted child to whom they forced their 13- or 14-year old daughter to give birth. Long-time NOW member and former national NOW board member, Merry Demarest, chaired the "No on 43" Campaign, whose slogan was Not so simple, not at all safe .

"This is a victory for reproductive rights and for the safety of young women in Oregon," said Sandi Johnson, Oregon NOW President. "To quote suffragist Alice Paul, 'Our victory cannot be a signal for rest.' Our work toward fulfilling NOW's mission in the state will continue during the 2007 Oregon legislative session."

Victory Sweep on Minimum Wage Initiatives

Congress has refused to increase the paltry $5.15 per hour federal minimum wage since 1997, so activists in several states took the matter into their own hands. As a result of strong coalitions and extensive on-the-ground organizing, voters in six states gave workers sharply higher minimum wages with automatic adjustments for inflation in Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

A majority of minimum wage earners are women, and NOW activists have a long history of working to improve their pay. These six states join more than 20 others, plus the District of Columbia, that had already set higher rates than the federal minimum. With the momentum driven by these states and the new members of Congress, there is hope that the 110th Congress will pass a federal minimum wage of at least $7.25 per hour, which the new Democratic-led Congress has promised to take up in their first 100 hours. We will also urge the Congress to include automatic escalation provisions, as did all of the successful ballot measures, so that we will not have to go, hat in hand, to Congress every few years for a new minimum wage just to keep up with increases in the cost of living.

It appears that having a minimum wage increase on the ballot may increase Democratic turnout, since there were key victories in several of these states. That concern may give the Republicans even more reason to increase the federal minimum this session, in order to keep minimum wage measures off of state ballots in 2008.

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