Abortion rights on ballots in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens as she is introduced by Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood’s California chapter and co-chair of the Yes on Prop 1 campaign, during a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.
Jane Tyska | Digital First Media | East Bay Times via Getty Images
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Voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan and Vermont will decide during the midterm elections whether abortion is protected by their state constitutions.
But Michigan and Kentucky are shaping up to be two of the biggest abortion battlegrounds in the midterms. Michigan is poised to become a safe haven for constitutionally protected abortion rights in the Midwest, where access is shrinking.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is set to cement its abortion ban unless reproductive rights activists pull off an upset victory in the conservative southern state.
“When you’re amending the Constitution, you’re thinking about the future — putting in place protections that will last for decades, maybe hundreds of years,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior policy fellow for government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute.
The Supreme Court reversed American policy in June when it overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which protected abortion as a constitutional right across the country for nearly 50 years. A dozen states quickly banned the procedure after the high court’s ruling.
Democrats have made abortion rights central to their campaign to retain control of Congress and increase their majorities in the midterm elections. President Joe Biden has promised to codify Roe v. Wade into law if they vote elect more Democratic senators and the party keeps the house.
But Americans seem to be 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 was most important, according to a November Quinnipiac poll.
Currently, Democrats and Republicans are in a dead heat for the Senate, while most analysts believe they are The GOP will take back the house. This means that restoration of abortion rights at the federal level is unlikely in the near future. As a result, the battle over abortion will likely continue to be fought at the state level for the foreseeable future.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s referendums.
In conservative Kentucky, voters will either accept or reject an amendment that explicitly states that the state constitution does not recognize abortion as a right.
Kentucky immediately banned abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. It is now a criminal offense for a doctor to perform the procedure, for which the penalty is up to five years in prison. There is an exception when a woman’s life is in danger, but not for rape or incest victims. A woman cannot be prosecuted for having an abortion.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said the constitutional amendment would “protect and keep in place the most extreme law in the country when it comes to abortion services.” according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Although Kentucky has already banned the procedure, anti-abortion rights activists want to make it smooth by making sure state courts don’t one day rule against the law. State courts initially blocked the ban from taking effect before eventually allowing it to continue.
Leaders of the Yes to Life campaign for the amendment wrote in a local newspaper in October that the goal was to protect anti-abortion laws from activist judges.
Protect Kentucky Access, a campaign to defeat the amendment, is also trying to convince conservatives who support abortion restrictions that changing the constitution is a step too far.
Kaitlyn Soligan, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said people in Kentucky strongly believe in small government and that the abortion ban is a clear example that the state has gone too far.
Soligan said she believes voters will reject the amendment once they realize the constitutional change would enshrine a law that bans abortion without exception even in the most extreme situations.
“What we’ve found to be true in this campaign over the last few months is that people in Kentucky generally support exemptions, even when they support abortion restrictions,” Soligan said.
Protect Kentucky Access spent $4.3 million to overturn the ballot measure, far more than Yes for Life, which spent about $500,000, according to state campaign filings.
There are no public polls on Kentucky’s amendment, so it’s unclear how voters are going to the polls. Kentucky is a conservative state where many people oppose abortion, but that doesn’t mean the outcome is predetermined.
Kansas, also a very conservative state, decisively rejected a ballot measure in August that would have removed the right to abortion from its state constitution.
In Michigan, voters will decide whether to change the state constitution to protect not only abortion, but also reproductive rights.
This includes abortion, contraception, prenatal care, postpartum care, abortion care, sterilization and infertility. The state could regulate abortion once the fetus is viable, but not prohibit the procedure when the life or physical or mental health of the woman 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-old abortion ban. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe raised the possibility that the 1931 ban could be reinstated in Michigan.
The old law was blocked and then struck down by a state judge who ruled that it denied women control over their bodies and their lives. The midterm ballot measure would prevent any future lawmakers from banning abortion. According to a Detroit Free Press poll, about 64% of Michiganders support the constitutional amendment.
Abortion rights activists have spent more than $28 million through the political action committee Reproductive Freedom for All to support constitutional amendments, according to campaign filings in Michigan. Opponents have spent more than $16 million through another PAC, Citizens for Women and Children of MI.
Michigan is poised to become a key access point for women seeking abortions from neighboring Midwestern states. In August, Indiana passed a law that almost completely bans abortion. Ohio has banned the procedure after fetal heart activity is detected, which is often around the sixth week. The Indiana and Ohio laws are currently blocked by the courts pending state constitutional challenges.
Women in Kentucky, where the ban is currently in effect, are also within striking distance of Michigan.
California and Vermont are also voting during the midterms on whether to protect abortion under their state constitutions.
California’s constitutional amendment would prohibit the state from denying or interfering with a woman’s freedom to obtain an abortion or use contraception. Nearly 70% of voters in the Golden State support the amendment, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The Vermont amendment would guarantee an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy. About 75% of voters in the Green Mountain State support the amendment, according to an October survey by the University of New Hampshire.
Abortion was never threatened in these very liberal states even after Roe fell. Nash, of the Guttmacher Institute, said state constitutional amendments guarantee the procedure will be available for future generations if the political winds change.
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