Jul 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Inside the ACLU's campaign to build a Roe firewall

Illustration of a Vote button with red cross symbols replacing the stars.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The ACLU is launching an unprecedented, multimillion-dollar midterms initiative aimed at influencing the makeup of state Supreme Courts and district attorneys in battleground states where abortion access is on the line, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The Roe v. Wade reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court empowered states to decide abortion rights. Down-ballot races that rarely get national attention — in addition to a record number of abortion-related ballot measures — are now viewed as the last line of defense in the fight to protect reproductive rights.

  • "We're looking at those states where we can create a firewall," Kary Moss, the ACLU's political director, told Axios.
  • Voters "see at the federal level that many of their policy preferences aren’t being translated into policy outcomes," added Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU Kansas chapter.

Details: The ACLU is a nonprofit organization committed to defending civil rights and doesn't endorse candidates. Instead, the group plans to host town halls and deploy staff across the country to educate voters about the upcoming ballot initiatives.

  • The ACLU is also launching digital, TV and radio ad campaigns highlighting judges' records on abortion and past statements they've made about women's rights.
  • "It's not our job to tell people who to vote for, or to retain any one judge," Kubic told Axios. "It's to make sure folks have information about civil liberties, constitutional concepts and can make an informed decision."

What we're watching: There are nine state Supreme Court seats up for grabs across Ohio, Michigan, Montana, Kansas and North Carolina — top targets for the ACLU due to the likelihood those courts will deal with abortion litigation.

  • Groups on both sides of the debate recognize that state Supreme Court judges will have outsized influence in interpreting abortion protections as laid out in their state's constitution.
  • "To the extent the state Supreme Court races become a live wire — and we think they will — then it's our duty to make sure folks have accurate information," Kubic said.

District attorneys — many of whom will soon be in the position of determining whether to charge someone accused of violating an abortion ban — are another focus this cycle.

  • The ACLU is involved in DA races in North Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee and Arizona.
  • "It’s really important we make sure the district attorney is accountable and that we have somebody in that seat who is not going to engage in criminal prosecutions" for abortions, Moss said.

As for ballot measures, the first real test will be on Aug. 2 — when Kansans vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the state legislature to impose a total abortion ban. (Currently, the Kansas Bill of Rights provides abortion access.)

  • In Kentucky and Vermont, November ballot measures will ask voters to amend the state constitution to clarify whether a right to abortion exists.

By the numbers: 25,000 new volunteers signed up to the ACLU's Michigan chapter after the Supreme Court's leaked draft opinion overturning Roe, Loren Khogali, the executive director of ACLU Michigan, told Axios.

  • The group has thousands of volunteers out collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would enshrine "reproductive freedom" in Michigan's constitution.
  • 425,000 signatures are required by July 11 to get the measure on the ballot in November.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that the Kansas ballot initiative would allow the state legislature to impose an abortion ban, rather than immediately impose one.

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