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The Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade let loose a national wave of protest, action, and legislative initiatives. The court’s decision, which directly affects some 65 million childbearing age persons in the United States, was made in direct disregard for numerous polls indicating 59% of the US population supports abortion.
Abortion was a major midterms elections issue, top of mind (second only to inflation) for millions of Americans. Kansas served as the harbinger; in August, 59% of Kansas voters defeated, after a massive broad pro-choice campaign, a proposal to alter the state’s constitution to explicitly exclude abortion rights.
On November 8 abortion was on the ballot throughout the country, both directly and indirectly. Less than 5 months after the court overturned nearly 50 years of abortion protection, voters across the country considered propositions to protect or deny abortion rights. “Roe, Roe , Roe your vote” and “Roevember is coming!” were abortion rights slogans heading into the midterms.
Ballot initiatives and candidates with clear abortion positions both pro and con galvanized millions of women and their allies to get out to vote, contributing to massive and record-breaking voter turnout for the 2022 midterms.
Voters defeated propositions that would ban or restrict abortions, and won propositions that protect abortion rights by enshrining abortion in the state’s constitution. Anti-abortion forces used the Roe defeat to push for even greater restrictions, but lost in Kentucky and Montana.
The five abortion-related initiatives directly on the ballot were in Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, Vermont, and California, making for the highest number of abortion-related bills in any single election. Anti-abortion propositions, defeated, were as follows:
Kentucky proposed an amendment to the state’s constitution, to add language that explicitly states there is no legal right to abortion in KY: “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.” It was defeated.
The “Medical Care Requirements for Born-Alive Infants Measure” would have granted legal personhood to a fetus and require lifesaving measures for a fetus “born alive,” targeting late abortions. It would have required that medical intervention be provided following induced labor, cesarean section, and attempted abortion, setting a $50,000 fine and a maximum 20-year prison sentence for violators. The measure was blasted for its lack of basis in medical realities and for criminalizing medical personnel. It was defeated.
Propositions supporting abortion rights, all of which won, were as follows:
Proposition 3 calls for a constitutional amendment that enshrines essential protections for abortion and pregnancy care (including birth control, prenatal care, and childbirth) in the state’s constitution. The amendment will permanently block a 1931 pre-Roe abortion ban; a court injunction had stopped its implementation.
Abortion is legal in California. Proposition 1 calls for a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion and birth control in the state’s constitution. This win further establishes California as a leader in abortion protection.
Abortion is legal in Vermont. Proposition 5 calls for a constitutional amendment that will create a constitutional right to personal “reproductive autonomy,” making Vermont the first state to explicitly protect personal reproductive autonomy in its constitution.
Not all ballot items related to reproductive rights were explicitly about abortion. Some called for work-arounds to create abortion bans, such as calls for a constitutional convention. Fourteen states have automatic referenda on holding a constitutional convention, the regularity of which varies by state (every 10, 16, or 20 years). Three constitutional convention questions were on the November 8, 2022, ballot: in Alaska, Missouri, and New Hampshire. All were rejected.
Alaska’s ballot included a referendum on a constitution convention, which could consider a wide range of changes to the state’s constitution. In Alaska, abortion rights are upheld by a 1997 court decision on the grounds that the state’s constitution provides privacy protections.
Abortion was not on the ballot in every state, but it sparked activism and massive voter turnout throughout the country. Many races clearly pitted pro-choice, pro-democracy and pro-voting rights candidates against anti-abortion election deniers. In virtually all races abortion was an issue.
Many races have not been called at the time of this writing. But among those that are decided, pro-choice candidates have won a number of key races. For the Senate, these include Fetterman and Hassan. A number of pro-choice governors won, including Whitmer in Michigan and Shapiro in PA. Anti-abortion forces won several key governor’s posts, including in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas.
Senate and House midterm wins and losses will ultimately determine control of Congress, unclear at the time of this writing. That control will in turn set the stage for Democratic and Republican party legislative initiatives on abortion rights. President Biden has promised national legislation that codifies and protects abortion rights. Senator Lindsey Graham has proposed federal legislation mandating a national ban on all abortions after 15 weeks.
Women shaped much of the direction and outcomes of the 2022 midterms, infuriated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade and determined to restore abortion access for all women. That determination will be needed for years to come.
Despite 2022 midterm wins, abortion remains banned in 14 states. As the Guttmacher Institute notes, “That means 19 million women of reproductive age in the United States cannot access abortion in their state of residence, along with transgender and nonbinary people who may need an abortion…And more bans are coming…Going into 2023, we expect more states to attempt to restrict abortion care, as well as escalate attacks on contraception and gender-affirming care.”
It’s clear that the victories of the 2022 midterms are just the beginning of what promises to be a long and arduous battle to restore abortion rights and establish reproductive rights for all.
Women are ready.
Abortion on the Ballot. The New York Times. November 9, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/11/08/us/elections/results-abortion.html (Accessed 11/10/2022)
Alaska Measure 1 Election Results: Constitutional Convention. The New York Times. November 10, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/11/08/us/elections/results-alaska-measure-1-constitutional-convention.html (Accessed 11/10/2022)
Mandatory vote about whether a statewide constitutional convention shall be held. Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Mandatory_vote_about_whether_a_statewide_constitutional_convention_shall_be_held (Accessed November 10, 2022)
Nash, Elizabeth and Guarnieri, Isabel. In the US Midterm Elections, Resounding Victories for Abortion on State Ballot Measures. Guttmacher Institute. November 9, 2022. https://www.guttmacher.org/2022/11/us-midterm-elections-resounding-victories-abortion-state-ballot-measures (Accessed 11/9/2022)
Ollstein, Alice Miranda and Messerly, Megan. A predicted ‘red wave’ crashed into wall of abortion rights support on Tuesday. Politico. November 9, 2022. https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/09/abortion-votes-2022-election-results-00065983 (Accessed November 10, 2022)
Mariana Mcdonald is a poet, writer, scientist, and activist. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including poetry in Crab Orchard Review, Lunch Ticket, and The New Verse News; fiction in About Place Journal, So to Speak, and Cobalt; and creative nonfiction in Longridge Review and HerStry. She co-authored with Margaret Randall Dominga Rescues the Flag, about Black Puerto Rican heroine Dominga de la Cruz. Mcdonald trained with Al Gore in 2019 and joined the international Climate Reality Leadership Corps. She was named a Black Earth Institute Scholar Advisor and Fellow for 2022-2025. She lives in Atlanta.
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