Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens as she is introduced by Jodi Hicks, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and Co-Chair of the Yes on Prop 1 Campaign, at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday. , October 13, 2022.
Jane Tyska | Early Digital Media | East Bay Times via Getty Images
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Voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan and Vermont will decide in midterm elections whether abortion is protected by their state constitutions.
But Michigan and Kentucky are shaping up to be the two biggest abortion battlegrounds in the medium term. Michigan is poised to become a haven for constitutionally protected abortion rights in the shrinking Midwest.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is set to entrench its abortion ban unless reproductive rights activists win an upset victory in the conservative Southern state.
“When you change the constitution, you think about the future — putting in place protections that will last for decades, if not hundreds of years,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior policy associate for state affairs at the Guttmacher Institute.
The Supreme Court shook up American politics in June when it overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade, who protected abortion as a constitutional right nationwide for nearly 50 years. A dozen states quickly banned the procedure following the High Court’s ruling.
Democrats have placed abortion rights at the heart of their campaign to maintain control of Congress and expand their midterm majorities. President Joe Biden has pledged to codify Roe v. Wade by law if voters elect more Democratic senators and the party retains the House.
But Americans seem more concerned about the economy. Just 10% of voters said abortion was the most important issue ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, while 36% said inflation mattered most, according to a November Quinnipiac poll.
Currently, Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse for the Senate, while most analysts believe the GOP will take over the House. This means that restoring abortion rights at the federal level is unlikely in the near term. As a result, the battle over abortion will likely continue to play out at the state level for the foreseeable future.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s referendums.
In conservative Kentucky, voters will accept or reject an amendment that explicitly says the state constitution does not recognize abortion as a right.
Kentucky immediately banned abortion after the Supreme Court struck down Roe. It is now a crime for a doctor to perform the procedure, punishable by up to five years in prison. There is an exception when the woman’s life is in danger, but not for victims of rape or incest. A woman cannot be prosecuted for having an abortion.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said the constitutional amendment would “protect and keep in place the nation’s most extreme law on abortion services,” according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Although Kentucky has already banned the procedure, activists who oppose abortion rights want to make it ironclad by ensuring that state courts do not ever rule against the law. State courts initially blocked the ban from going into effect before finally allowing it to proceed.
Leaders of the Yes to Life campaign in favor of the amendment wrote in a local newspaper in October that the aim was to protect anti-abortion laws from activist judges.
Protect Kentucky Access, the campaign to defeat the amendment, is also trying to convince conservatives who support abortion restrictions that changing the constitution is a step too far.
Campaign spokeswoman Kaitlyn Soligan said Kentucky people believe strongly in small government and banning abortion is a clear example of the state going too far.
Soligan said she believes voters will reject the amendment once they understand the constitutional change would enshrine a law banning abortion without exception, even in the most extreme situations.
“What we’ve seen in this campaign over the past few months is that Kentucky people overwhelmingly support exceptions, even when they support abortion restrictions,” Soligan said.
Protect Kentucky Access spent $4.3 million to defeat the ballot measure, far more than Yes for Life, which spent about $500,000, according to state campaign documents.
There’s no public poll on the Kentucky amendment, so it’s unclear which way voters are headed to the polls. Kentucky is a conservative state where many people oppose abortion, but that doesn’t mean the outcome is predetermined.
Kansas, which is also a very conservative state, vehemently rejected an election measure in August that would have removed the right to abortion from its constitution.
In Michigan, voters will decide whether or not to change the state constitution to protect not just abortion, but broader reproductive rights.
This includes abortion, contraception, prenatal care, postpartum care, miscarriage management, sterilization, and infertility. The state would be able to regulate abortion once the fetus is viable, but not ban the procedure when the woman’s life or physical or mental health is at stake.
The campaign to protect reproductive rights under the state constitution comes after a legal battle in Michigan last summer over a 91-year abortion ban. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe raised the possibility that the 1931 ban could come back into effect in Michigan.
The old law was blocked and then struck down by a state judge who ruled it denied women control over their bodies and lives. The midterm ballot measure would prevent any future legislature from banning abortion. Some 64% of Michiganders support the constitutional amendment, according to a Detroit Free Press poll.
Abortion rights activists have spent more than $28 million through the political action committee Reproductive Freedom for All to support the constitutional amendment, according to Michigan campaign materials. Those opposed have spent more than $16 million through another PAC, Citizens to Support MI Women and Children.
Michigan is fast becoming a crucial access point for women seeking abortions in neighboring Midwestern states. Indiana passed a law in August that almost completely bans abortion. Ohio banned the procedure after detection of fetal heart activity, which is often around the sixth week. The Indiana and Ohio laws are currently stalled in the courts pending state constitutional challenges.
Women in Kentucky, where a ban is currently in effect, are also within driving distance of Michigan.
California and Vermont
California and Vermont are also voting midterm on whether to protect abortion under their state constitutions.
The California constitutional amendment would prohibit the state from denying or interfering with a woman’s freedom to have an abortion or use contraception. Nearly 70% of Golden State voters support the amendment, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The Vermont amendment would guarantee an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy. Some 75% of voters in Green Mountain State support the amendment, according to an October poll from the University of New Hampshire.
Abortion was never in danger in these very liberal states, even after the fall of Roe. Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said the state’s constitutional amendments ensure the procedure will be available for future generations if the political winds change.