Abortion rights backers see wins in ballot measures

Voters were on track to protect abortion rights in several states on Tuesday just months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal guarantee to an abortion in a landmark case.
Democratic voters were fired up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Voters resoundingly approved abortion rights measures in several states Tuesday, just months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal guarantee to an abortion in a landmark case.

Michigan, Vermont and California voted to enshrine reproductive rights in their states’ constitutions, while Kentucky voters rejected a proposal that would have specifically denied the right to an abortion. And in Montana, a referendum requiring medical care for infants born alive after an abortion was trailing 47%-53%, with 80% of votes counted Wedesday morning.

The results in Michigan and Kentucky were particularly noteworthy, showing that the battle to protect abortion rights could be salient even in battleground and right-leaning states where abortion bans were on the line.

The 56%-44% vote in Michigan scuttled efforts to enforce a 90-year-old abortion ban, creating a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, including decisions “about all matters relating to pregnancy,” such as abortion and contraception.

Kentucky’s 54%-47% rejection of the amendment, which would state there is no right to abortion in the state constitution, infused new hope into abortion rights groups’ efforts to challenge the state’s abortion ban in court. The deep-red state is one of about a dozen where “trigger” laws went into effect as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Dobbs ruling in July.

The state’s two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, challenged the ban in a case seeking to establish abortion as a right in the state constitution. A state Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.

In Vermont, a constitutional amendment stating that “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course,” passed by a 3-1 margin.

California’s Proposition 1, which adds a right to reproductive freedom to the state’s constitution, was leading with 69% of the vote.

Democratic strategists predicted would herald a new wave of abortion-related ballot measures in other states.

Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights, said her organization is celebrating the victories but cautioned there are still millions who lack access to abortion services.

“This is the beginning of a long struggle to build back a future that goes beyond Roe, where we can guarantee accessible, affordable and compassionate abortion care for every person in this country,” Nash said in a statement.

The initiatives up for a vote Tuesday were among the first to hit ballots after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year overturned the precedent set half a century ago in Roe v. Wade. Voters in Kansas defeated another anti-abortion rights measure in August.

Montana’s proposed law stated that infants born alive, including after an abortion, are legal persons and require medical care.

Tuesday’s elections capped a year that saw the most abortion-related measures on the ballot ever, starting with a surprising defeat for abortion rights’ opponents in Kansas who had tried to amend the conservative state’s constitution to make it easier to restrict abortion access.

Abortion rights advocates vastly outraised oppoents in all three states considering constitutional amendments, with the majority of the money going to the measure in Michigan.

Reproductive Freedom for All, the chief group backing the measure, reported more than $46 million in contributions. The seven opposition committees reported $242,000 in contributions, according to Open Secrets.

California’s amendment attracted $9.6 million in support, while opponents spent just $70,000 against it. In Kentucky, Protect Kentucky Access, a coalition of abortion-rights groups opposing the measure, reported raising almost $5 million in opposition to the amendement. That was far more than the $867,000 raised by Yes for Life, the main group supporting it, which had backing from Kentucky Right to Life, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

In Vermont, the Vermont for Reproductive Liberty Ballot Committee, the main group supporting the measure, reported spending $1 million, compared to $321,000 reported by Vermonters for Good Government, the main opponents.

Montana’s measure did not attract any outside spending.

The Kentucky referendum was modeled after the one in Kansas, which was defeated by an 18-point margin. Its opposition drew on the same strategies that proved successful there, even hiring the same strategist.