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Abortion votes are causing a divide on state ballots across the US

How do recent abortion-focused ballots shape the political landscape heading into a presidential election year?
Abortion votes are causing a divide on state ballots across the US
Posted at 2:21 PM, Oct 08, 2023

Abortion is among the most contentious issues in America, but for almost half a century, the legal landscape for abortion here was more or less settled.

The 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade created a constitutional right to abortion, striking down existing state laws that regulated the practice. But last year, a legal lightning bolt struck. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

The ruling meant individual states could regulate abortion as they saw fit, and Republican legislatures have passed laws restricting the practice across the country. Among them was Montana, which passed new rules on clinics and restricted abortion after 15 weeks, though the law is under judicial review. "We are celebrating life," said Republican governor Greg Gianforte upon the passage of the law.

Fifteen states have all but banned the procedure since Dobbs.

South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida have passed six-week bans, though Florida's is on hold as the state waits for a court decision. "These are children with detectable heartbeats, and I think to do that was very humane, and I think was something that every pro-lifer appreciates," said Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL).

Roughly two in five women between the ages of 15 and 44 now live in states with more abortion restrictions than before the Dobbs—about 25 million women.

In addition to lawmakers passing state laws, there's another force that's been at play in the states. And that's a measure allowing voters to vote directly on abortion at the ballot box. And across the country, when voters have a direct say, abortion rights are winning.

SEE MORE: State of abortion laws: A year after Roe v. Wade overturned

In Kentucky, Kansas, and Montana, voters have rejected anti-abortion measures.

And in Michigan, last November, voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that created a new right to "make all decisions about pregnancy and abortion."

"Michigan voters were looking down the barrel of the possibility that a 1931 ban on abortion would go into effect if they didn't change their constitution to protect abortion rights," says Kelly Hall, executive director of The Fairness Project, a progressive group that organizes state ballot initiatives. "In Michigan and around the country in 2022, we saw the widening gap between the preferences of the median voter, even in purple and red states, and the extreme policies being proposed by anti-abortion politicians."

After the Michigan vote, an opponent of abortion rights told the New York Times that pro-abortion rights advocates "were better at message discipline than we were... Nationally, I think our side was caught flat-footed."

Riding the coattails of the Michigan initiative, Democrats took control of both legislative bodies, and Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer claimed victory in an election for her second term.

Nationally, Gallup says support for abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is at 69% of Americans, having grown since the Dobbs decision.

But support for abortion rights is fairly strong, even among Republicans. 47% of registered party members say the procedure should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy. Support drops for abortion in the second and third trimesters.

SEE MORE: AI chatbot that provides information about abortion goes live

Now all eyes are on Ohio, where canvassers have collected nearly double the number of signatures needed across the state to get a referendum on abortion rights on the ballot.

"This November, the abortion lobby is attempting to enshrine state-sanctioned murder into our Constitution," said Lizzie Marbach, Communications Director, Ohio Right to Life.

"When Ohio voters are faced with 'do you want to see a six-week abortion ban implemented in your state,'" said Hall, "it is not just members of the Democratic Party or folks who lean left who are thinking about this question with compassion and thoughtfulness."

For 2024, organizers are trying to establish voter initiatives to support abortion rights in Missouri, South Dakota, Arizona, and Florida.

In the Sunshine State, organizers have fanned out and gathered almost three hundred thousand voter signatures for a proposed amendment to the Florida constitution next year. That's about a third of the signatures required.

The amendment would bar any law that restricts abortion "before viability" or in a way that threatens a woman's health.

If the organizers collect the needed signatures, voters will decide on the measure during the 2024 election. That would once again thrust Florida and the ever-contentious issue of abortion onto the national political stage.

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