20221104 abortion midterms

The Future of Abortion Is Up for Grabs in These States on Tuesday

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Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, President Joe Biden has been telling voters the solution is the polls. “Vote, vote vote,” he implored them a week after the court decided there was no constitutional right to abortion, after all. “Vote, vote, vote,” he repeated in July, signing an executive order that took some of the steps in his power to protect abortion access. “Vote, vote, vote,” he added last month, promising an abortion-rights bill first thing next January, if Democrats first win sufficient majorities.

“Vote, vote, vote,” of course, wasn’t an answer for the estimated 10,000-plus people who were unable to obtain abortion care at clinics in their states in the two months after the Supreme Court’s ruling. (Many, it now appears, found an answer elsewhere—traveling to out-of state abortion providers or ordering pills in the mail.) But now the midterm elections are here, and with them, the long-promised chance for voters to protect abortion access. On top of Congressional races, where Democrats are fighting an uphill battle to increase their majorities enough to pass a federal abortion rights bill, a number of states have ballot measures, gubernatorial contests, or legislative races expected to have direct ramifications for reproductive rights at the state level.

States have the power to establish rights for their residents that surpass those guaranteed in the Constitution. California’s Proposition 1 and Vermont’s Proposal 5 would explicitly add abortion rights to their state constitutions—an additional safeguard where abortion access is already protected by law and insulated by left-leaning climates. 

Potentially more impactful is Ballot Proposal 3 in Michigan, where voters are considering a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to “reproductive freedom.” The amendment would establish full abortion rights for all, at least until fetal viability, as well as the right to make and carry out one’s own decisions about contraception, sterilization, and miscarriage management. “More so than any other individual race or ballot referendum,” my colleague Abby Vesoulis reported, “the results of this measure in this particularly purple state will reveal the degree to which middle-America voters support strong abortion protections in practice rather than in the abstract.”

For a while, it wasn’t clear the Michigan initiative would even get to the ballot, though its backers collected far more petition signatures than they needed. An anti-abortion group argued in court that there wasn’t enough spacing between the words on the hard copy for supporters to understand what they were signing. The Michigan Supreme Court threw out that challenge in September, clearing the way for the referendum. The amendment would stymie attempts to bring back a blocked 1931 abortion ban, and guard against future anti-abortion lawmaking by the Republican-controlled state legislature. 

Kentucky’s Amendment 2 would go other direction, clarifying there is no right to abortion anywhere in the state constitution. If passed, the amendment would help cement the state’s zero-week abortion ban, throwing a wrench into pro-choice activists’ plans to argue that their right to privacy in the state constitution implies the right to end a pregnancy. 

Two more states have initiatives that indirectly implicate reproductive rights. In Alaska, Ballot Measure 1 asks whether to call a state constitutional convention; if they do so, some lawmakers would see it as an opportunity to prohibit abortion, according to Alaska Public Media. Meanwhile, Montana’s Legislative Referendum 131 would impose strict criminal penalties on health care workers who don’t take “take medically appropriate and reasonable actions” to provide medical care to infants born alive at any stage of development. The measure reportedly resembles model legislation by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. It doesn’t affect the legality of abortion, but supporters portray it as a way to stop infants who survive abortions from being left to die. Opponents who spoke to the Montana Free Press described the measure as redundant (infanticide is already illegal); based on falsehoods (in 12 years of data reviewed by the CDC, only 143 out of 315,392 infant deaths were reported as resulting from abortion, most involving pregnancy complications or multiple congenital anomalies); and cruel to the families of infants born with a fatal prognosis, who would lose the ability to request palliative care instead of aggressive medical interventions. 

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