Abortion has long been a contentious issue in American politics, but the debate has been revived, perhaps more than ever, since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, altering the landscape of abortion access across the nation. One major impact of the Dobbs decision was a distinct shift in the scope of abortion policy to the state level. Elisabeth Smith, Director for State Policy and Advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, says that in a post-Roe United States, “state constitutions are now the best vehicle to protect abortion rights and ensure access.”
The midterms held earlier this month were the first major elections held across the United States since Roe was overturned, providing many voters with an opportunity to contribute to abortion decisions in their states. Elected state officials such as governors, legislative representatives, and judges can play significant roles in shaping abortion policies and access in their states. In addition to the elected officials in the midterms, abortion was directly on the ballot in a record number of states with abortion-related legislative proposals.
With so much at stake for the right to abortion in midterm elections, many voters took advantage of the opportunity to make their voices heard. According to polling conducted by the Keiser Family Foundation, the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade had a major impact on voter turnout and choice for at least half of democratic voters, first time voters, and younger women voters.
The results of this voter turnout are clear: in each of the five states where abortion was directly on the ballot, proposed abortion protections were expanded, and proposed restrictions were rejected. Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont approved amendments to their state constitutions to protect reproductive freedoms, and limit government intrusion into reproductive health care decisions. In Kentucky and Montana, voters rejected efforts to further restrict access to abortion. These results are following Kansas’ rejection of an anti-abortion state initiative in August. Although these states range from liberal, moderate, to conservative, where abortion was directly on the ballot, the people ultimately voted in support of abortion rights.
The election results are promising for abortion advocates. President and Chief Executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Nancy Northup called the midterms “a seismic win for abortion rights,” and emphasized that the outcomes show that “when people can vote directly on abortion in a non-partisan ballot initiative, abortion rights win.” The outcomes of the first major elections after the Dobbs decision may make the case for a glimmer of hope for the future of abortion rights and access in the United States.