Kentucky rejects anti-abortion constitutional amendment

Counter-protesters hold signs outside a rally encouraging voters to vote yes on Amendment 2, which would add a permanent abortion ban to the Kentucky state constitution, on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort , Kentucky, October 1, 2022. \

Stefani Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

In a surprise victory for reproductive rights, voters in conservative Kentucky rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have shielded the state’s abortion ban from legal challenge, Projected NBC News.

About 52% of those who voted in the midterm elections rejected an amendment that stated there was no right to abortion under the state constitution.

Kentucky banned abortion immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The amendment presented to voters was an attempt by anti-abortion activists to protect the state’s ban from legal challenges by making it armored under the state constitution.

Although abortion remains illegal in Kentucky, the defeat of the constitutional amendment will make it easier for reproductive rights activists to fight the ban in state courts.

“This is a victory for bodily autonomy and the right of all Kentuckians to make the best decisions for themselves, but the fight is not over,” said Amber Duke, ACLU executive director of the Kentucky. “We will now continue our fight in state courts to restore access to abortion in the Commonwealth.”

The amendment’s defeat in Kentucky is another indication that there are limits to anti-abortion policy, even in conservative states. Protect Kentucky Access, the coalition that opposed the amendment, ran a moderate campaign that also sought to win over conservatives who support abortion restrictions but also believe the procedure is necessary in certain situations.

Kentucky’s abortion ban makes the medical act a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, but there is when the mother’s life is in danger. Women cannot be prosecuted for having an abortion under Kentucky law.

Kentucky has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has represented the state in Washington since 1985. On Tuesday, Kentucky reelected Republican Sen. Rand Paul, another deeply conservative.

The defeat of the anti-abortion bill in Kentucky is the second surprise victory for abortion rights in a conservative state since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. In August, Kansas voters forcefully rejected a measure to remove the right to abortion from the state constitution.

Other States Protect Abortion

In another major victory for reproductive rights, Michigan voted to protect abortion as a right under its state constitution, after Roe’s fall raised the possibility that a ban on the old procedure of 91 years can come back into force.

Michigan will now become a major haven for women seeking abortions in the Midwest, where access has dwindled since Roe was overthrown.

California and Vermont also voted to protect abortion as a right under their state constitutions in midterm elections. Although reproductive rights have never been threatened in these staunchly liberal states, the amendments guarantee access to abortion for future generations.

A solid majority of midterm voters nationwide, about 60%, said abortion should be legal, according to NBC News exit polls. And 27% of voters said abortion was the most important issue to them, behind only inflation among voters’ concerns, according to exit polls.

Sixty percent of voters said they were either unhappy or angry with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, according to polls. Thirty-seven percent of voters said they were enthusiastic or satisfied with the High Court’s decision to end federal abortion rights.

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