For an off-cycle election year, voters across the country sent some pretty clear messages and delivered a number of convincing wins for abortion access. Even states with deep partisan divides signaled that reproductive health rights rank high among their priorities, which bears critical weight as our country heads into next year’s general election with historically few swing states.
All eyes were on Ohio as the ballot referendum on Issue 1 loomed large over the swing state’s reproductive rights landscape. Abortion rights survived an earlier test in August when 57 percent of voters decided not to increase the threshold for amendments to the state’s constitution, thwarting the anti-abortion movement’s last-ditch effort to move the goalpost on the November abortion question. Voters then doubled down on Election Day, approving a state constitutional right to abortion by 56.6 percent and standing firm in their commitment to choice and bodily autonomy.
Ohio’s constitutional amendment not only protects abortion rights, but also includes the individual right to make decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, and miscarriage care. Currently blocked by a judge, a 2019 bill banning abortion as early as six weeks is now only one of a number of Ohio laws restricting abortion access that would seem to be in clear violation of the amended state constitution. Even before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, Ohio had a number of laws curtailing reproductive rights, and in June 2022, the state earned a D rating on IWPR’s Reproductive Rights Index for its restrictions on abortion access. On November 7, Ohioans took to the polls and gave a resounding “thumbs down” to those restrictive policies, enshrining expanded reproductive health rights in the state for generations to come.
In Virginia, the state legislature election presented an opportunity for the state GOP to seize a majority that could advance abortion restrictions to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk. Instead, voters elected a Democratic majority to both the House and the Senate. They also sent former Delegate Danica Roem to the State Senate where she becomes the first openly trans state senator in the South. The loss in the legislature is a blow to Youngkin who, shortly after results rolled in, declined to enter the presidential race. Virginia Democrats will now enjoy a 3-seat margin in the House and a 2-seat margin in the Senate, with enough support for abortion access to thwart any conservative attacks on reproductive health rights. After the Dobbs decision and the consequent wave of state level abortion restrictions across much of the United States, Tuesday’s result in Virginia likely preserves abortion rights in the last southern state with abortion access.
Further south, Kentucky reelected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear to serve a second term. Beshear defeated Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron with 53 percent of the vote in another race with heavy implications for abortion rights, just a year after Kentuckians rejected a ballot initiative that would have prohibited a right to abortion in the state constitution.
Election Day touched each branch of government, including the courts, as Pennsylvania elected Democrat Daniel McCaffrey to the State Supreme Court. McCaffrey, who touted his support for abortion access along the campaign trail, clearly resonated with voters who delivered him 53 percent of the vote. Pennsylvania Democrats control the Governor’s office and the House while Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, so growing the liberal majority on the court further safeguards against conservative attacks on reproductive rights.
Nationwide, Americans have now protected abortion access every time it’s been on the ballot since the fall of Roe v. Wade, from swing states like Ohio and Michigan, to conservative states like Kansas and Montana. If this off-cycle election is any indication, politicians promoting near-total abortion bans with blatant disregard for popular opinion have cause for concern in the upcoming presidential and state elections.