Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, smiles at the Kansans for Constitutional Freedom watch party after Kansans voted to keep abortion a constitutional right on Aug. 2, 2022. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)
WASHINGTON — Voters in five states — including GOP-dominated Kentucky — backed abortion rights Tuesday, signaling that while the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority no longer believes the procedure is protected within the U.S. Constitution, many Americans want their states to do just that.
California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont residents voted to support abortion access, or boost reproductive rights, when asked about the issue directly on their ballots this year. Kansans also backed abortion rights earlier this year, when nearly 60% of voters said they wanted to keep abortion protected under the state’s constitution.
The outcome in red states like Kansas and Kentucky as well as a swing state like Michigan shows that while Republican voters may want conservative candidates in office, they may not necessarily want abortion rights to be reduced further.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the votes show that abortion access is “not a partisan issue” and that people throughout the country “do not want politicians controlling their bodies and futures.”
“Across the country last night, we saw an unmistakable repudiation of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe,” Northup said in a written statement. “From Kentucky to Michigan to Vermont to California, Americans want their right to abortion protected.”
In California, more than 65% of voters in the solidly Democratic state backed amending the state’s constitution to say lawmakers “cannot deny or interfere with a person’s reproductive freedom and that people have the fundamental right to choose” if and when to use contraceptives or get an abortion.
That number was significantly higher than the 59% of voters who supported U.S. Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla’s reelection or the 58% of Californians who backed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Voting against the California ballot question wouldn’t have eliminated abortion access in the state, since the state Supreme Court has ruled the state constitution’s right to privacy includes reproductive choices like contraceptive use and abortion. But it did indicate some voters who didn’t support Democratic candidates do support abortion rights remaining secure.
Fifty-two percent of Kentucky voters rejected a ballot question that would have amended their state constitution to say that “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
Kentucky voters similarly backed statewide candidates by different margins, reelecting Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul with 62% of the vote.
D. Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, said Wednesday that nationally and in the Bluegrass State, “not a small number of genuine Republican voters are still pro-choice.”
During past elections, Voss said, one of the GOP’s strongest platforms was on abortion, allowing “them to hold together voters in areas where their economic policies, their more class-based policies, weren’t doing them as much good.”
Looking at the so-called ticket splitting where voters backed GOP candidates but also supported abortion-rights on ballot questions, Voss said, “mathematically it’s clear that a lot of people who supported Republican politicians nonetheless cast a vote against the abortion limitations.”
“This last election cycle underscores that the abortion issue is no longer advantageous turf for the GOP,” Voss said. “It’s become a strength for Democrats in some places. So Republicans are going to have to figure out how to adjust their policy demands to improve their electoral prospects in light of this quick change in the politics of abortion.”
Michigan amendment backed
In Michigan, voters backed adding an amendment to the state constitution that would create a “new individual right to reproductive freedom, including [the] right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility.”
The ballot question said the state government would be able to regulate abortion after fetal viability, typically between 22-24 weeks, “but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health.”
More than 56% of Michigan voters supported protecting those rights under their state constitution. The results show more ticket splitting, with 54% of voters reelecting Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Montana voters reject ‘legal person’ ballot question
In Montana, 52% of voters rejected establishing a state law that a “born-alive infant, including an infant born in the course of an abortion, must be treated as a legal person under the laws of the state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.”
Abortion is legal in Montana through viability and the state Supreme Court has said the state constitution protects the right to end a pregnancy as part of the right to privacy. The ballot question voters weighed in on Tuesday was largely seen as a referendum on abortion rights in the state, with anti-abortion advocates backing the provision “while medical providers said the situation doesn’t happen and only makes care of medically complicated pregnancies more difficult,” according to The Daily Montanan.
The ballot question was unnecessary since Congress passed and then-President George W. Bush signed a bill in 2002 that defined person, human being, child and individual to include every “infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”
The federal law then defines “born alive” as “the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after such expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.”
While Montana didn’t have any statewide candidate races this year, voters overwhelmingly reelected Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale with 57% of the vote in the 2nd District. And voters appeared on track to elect Republican Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior during the Trump administration, to the newly formed 1st Congressional District with 50% of the vote, though the Associated Press had yet to call the race Wednesday afternoon.
Vermont ballot question wins big
In Vermont, more than 77% of voters supported a ballot question that enshrined “reproductive autonomy” in the state’s constitution.
That figure was much higher than the 69% of Vermonters who backed Democratic Rep. Peter Welch’s first bid for U.S. Senate, following the retirement of U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy. It was more than the 71% of voters who reelected Republican Gov. Phil Scott. And it was higher than the 63% of voters who elected Democratic state Sen. Becca Balint to the state’s at-large U.S. House seat.
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