In five states, abortion rights were on the ballot Tuesday. In all five, it appears that voters rejected anti-abortion policies.
In Vermont, California, Michigan and Kentucky, voters elected to protect reproductive rights in their communities through ballot initiatives that sought to either defend or restrict abortion care. Three initiatives — in Vermont, California and Michigan — incorporated reproductive freedom into the states’ constitutions, while a fourth, in Kentucky, was an anti-abortion amendment that would have codified that the state does not recognize a right to abortion.
Results in Montana have not been certified yet, but voters appear poised to reject a referendum titled Require Care for Infants Born Alive, a misleading anti-abortion measure that would create more barriers to health care. As of Wednesday afternoon, the measure was losing by nearly 5 points with 86% of the vote reported.
“Yesterday, abortion access proved to be a winning issue across the country,” Kimberly Inez McGuire, the executive director at Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, a national reproductive justice group, said in a Wednesday statement.
“By enshrining abortion rights into state constitutions in Vermont, California, and Michigan for the very first time, voters succeeded where the Supreme Court failed,” she continued. “Ballot initiatives and candidates alike that promised to protect abortion overwhelmingly won, including in red and purple states.”
And the ballot initiatives weren’t the only place where abortion protections prevailed. Abortion-rights advocates claimed victories in critical gubernatorial and senate races, such as those in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and New Mexico, as well as the North Carolina legislature. Abortion-rights supporters may see even more wins as states continue to count votes.
“Yesterday, abortion access proved to be a winning issue across the country.”
– Kimberly Inez McGuire, Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
Vermont’s Proposal 5, or the Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment, was the first result called early Tuesday night, winning over 77% of the state vote. California came next, with Proposition 1 also winning handily with 65% of the vote.
And then Michigan’s constitutional amendment passed with 56% of the state vote. That marked a huge win for abortion-rights groups in a state where abortion had only remained tenuously legal since this summer, when the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Michigan’s abortion-rights victory was among the most consequential ballot outcomes of the night, since Republicans continually tried to enforce a near-total abortion ban from 1931 in the state. With wins for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and state Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), as well as projected Democratic victories in the state House of Representatives and Senate, the pre-Roe abortion ban is all but dead in Michigan.
“This is a seismic win for abortion rights in a battleground state,” said Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Until there is national legislation that protects abortion rights across the country, we will continue to work to ensure that state constitutions protect the right to abortion.”
Although Michigan was the most watched ballot initiative of the night, it was not the most stunning result of the five. Kentucky and Montana, two deeply Republican states that have historically opposed abortion, voted against anti-abortion ballot initiatives. According to the count as of Wednesday afternoon, 52% of Montanans voted against the state’s anti-abortion referendum.
Despite easily sending anti-abortion Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) back to Washington and electing a wide array of other statewide Republican candidates, around 52% of Kentuckians voted against Constitutional Amendment 2. In addition to not recognizing abortion rights, the amendment would have maintained that Kentucky does not require state money to go toward abortion care.
It was a shocking result for a state that boasts the fourth most anti-abortion views in the country, according to a 2022 analysis from Public Religion Research Institute.
“We really thought that this issue transcended political affiliation and religious identities,” said Tamarra Wieder, the Kentucky state director for the nonprofit Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, in response to the contrasting election outcomes in Kentucky.
“Over 60% of our counties don’t have a practicing OB-GYN. We, in Kentucky, really struggle to get care. And abortion care is health care, and Kentuckians see it that way,” she added. “They may align with political leaders for other issues, but on this one, they stand firm with abortion access.”
The result in Kentucky is reminiscent of an earlier primary election outcome in Kansas, with an anti-abortion amendment failing there in August. Kentucky’s amendment would have been redundant because a near-total abortion ban went into effect weeks after the repeal of Roe, but abortion-rights groups are still counting the outcome as a victory.
Initial exit polls show that abortion was the second-most important issue to voters nationally, following closely behind the economy and inflation. According to a poll conducted by the African American Research Collaborative, 44% of Black voters, 40% of Native American voters and 39% of Latino voters cited the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe as the primary reason they voted this year.
Democrats campaigned heavily on the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that saw Roe repealed. It was a breath of fresh air for abortion-rights groups that have consistently pushed Democrats to be more vocal advocates for abortion care and reproductive health.
“I remember a time not too long ago when elected officials would say: ‘We can’t have these conversations around abortion. Just get us into the office, and when we’re there we will do what we can to preserve access to care,’” Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told HuffPost on Wednesday morning.
“Seeing folks run on protecting abortion rights, being full-throated in their support, signaling where they are and winning … that’s a lesson I hope the party takes, that I hope reproductive-rights champions recognize,” she said. “There’s no losing when you stay in lockstep with where the majority of people are with respect to reproductive freedom.”