All five states that had abortion on the Midterm ballot this year – Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan, Montana, and California – voted to support it.[i] After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, undoing the federal constitutional right to an abortion, the issue was left up to the states to decide.[ii] Prior to this year, the issue of abortion had never been placed so squarely in the hands of voters to decide for themselves.
Less than two months after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, Kansas became the first state to let its voters decide the issue of abortion, inspiring many other states to do the same.[iii] Their results were shocking.[iv] 59% of Kansans rejected the proposed state constitutional amendment that would have denied the right to an abortion in Kansas.[v]
While advocates on both sides wondered if the vote in Kansas was a fluke, the results of this year’s Midterm Elections prove otherwise.[vi] Kentucky proposed an amendment to its state constitution that would eliminate the right to abortion, or any requirement to fund abortion, and 52.4% of voters rejected it.[vii] Vermont proposed its own constitutional amendment that would create a right to “personal reproductive autonomy” which 77.2% of voters endorsed.[viii] Michigan’s proposal was similar and passed by 56.7% of voters.[ix] In California, 65% of voters decided to amend their state constitution to protect a person’s reproductive autonomy “in their most intimate decisions.”[x] While Montana’s proposal, the “Born-Alive Infants Regulation,” aimed to criminalize the provision of abortion care, it was rejected by 52.2% of voters.[xi]
Some of these results were more surprising than others. In the past 22 years of presidential elections, Montana and Kentucky have voted Democratic 0% of the time.[xii] The same is true for Kansas.[xiii] While abortion access has been touted as a predominantly Democratic value, these state votes suggest otherwise.[xiv] Abortion may not be as clear-cut an issue as anticipated.[xv] 38% of voters who identify with the Republican Party say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 18% of Democratic-leaning voters say it should be illegal.[xvi] Those who oppose legal abortion, regardless of party affiliation, tend to be Christian and older in age.[xvii]
The remaining states should follow in the footsteps of these forerunners and let their constituents weigh in on abortion. According to Rachel Sweet, leader of Kentucky’s anti-abortion campaign, “[w]hile we may not all agree on abortion, we do agree that the government needs to stay out of our personal lives.”[xviii] Oddly enough, the Venn diagram of shared beliefs among young, non-religious progressives and grizzled, Southern libertarians may start to converge at abortion rights.[xix] “There are a lot of Republicans who are, at heart, libertarians. . . . They don’t think the government ought to be involved in these decisions.”[xx] In an increasingly divided nation, when it comes to abortion, Americans may have more in common than they thought. Kathy Blair, a registered Republican in Kentucky, told pollsters, “I don’t want the choice we’ve always had to go away, and I don’t want 80-year-old rich white men deciding what we’re going to do on a daily basis.”[xxi]
[i] Abortion on the Ballot, N.Y. Times (Nov. 9, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/11/08/us/elections/results-abortion.html.
[ii] Adam Liptak, In 6-to-3 Ruling, Supreme Court Ends Nearly 50 Years of Abortion Rights, N.Y. Times (Jun. 25, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/24/us/roe-wade-overturned-supreme-court.html; see generally Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (holding that there is a federal constitutional right to an abortion).
[iii] Dylan Lysen et al., Voters in Kansas Decide to Keep Abortion Legal in the State, Rejecting an Amendment, NPR (Aug. 3, 2022), https://www.npr.org/sections/2022-live-primary-election-race-results/2022/08/02/1115317596/kansas-voters-abortion-legal-reject-constitutional-amendment; see generally Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022) (holding there is no federal constitutional right to an abortion, thus leaving the issue of abortion to the states).
[vi] Alice Miranda Ollstein & Megan Messerly, A Predicted ’Red Wave’ Crashed into Wall of Abortion Rights Support on Tuesday, POLITICO (Nov. 9, 2022), https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/09/abortion-votes-2022-election-results-00065983.
[xii] Presidential Voting Trends in Montana, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Presidential_voting_trends_in_Montana; Presidential Voting Trends in Kentucky, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Presidential_voting_trends_in_Kentucky.
[xiii] Presidential Voting Trends in Kansas, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Presidential_voting_trends_in_Kansas.
[xiv] Michael Lipka, A Closer Look at Republicans Who Favor Legal Abortion and Democrats Who Oppose It, Pew Research Center (June 17, 2022), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/17/a-closer-look-at-republicans-who-favor-legal-abortion-and-democrats-who-oppose-it.
[xviii] Alice Miranda Ollstein, In Kentucky, Conservatives Warn of ’Roe v. Wade 2.0,’ POLITICO (Nov. 6, 2022), https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/06/kentucky-abortion-ballot-measure-00065252.