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Abortion Rights Seen as Big Winner in Elections in Ohio, Virginia, and Elsewhere

Ohio is the seventh state to vote to protect abortion rights in a statewide race since “Roe v. Wade” was overturned.

Abortion rights supporters celebrate winning the referendum on the so-called Issue 1, a measure to enshrine a right to abortion in Ohio's Constitution, in Columbus, Ohio, on November 7, 2023.

Election results from an off-year election in two states indicate that Democrats are continuing to win races in which their Republican opponents have indicated that they want to further restrict or outright ban abortion.

In Ohio, a referendum measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution passed after several months of attempts by Republicans to block the proposal. With approximately 95 percent of all precincts reporting, the measure passed with 2.18 million votes to 1.67 million, or 56.6 percent of the vote versus 43.4 percent, according to figures from The New York Times as of Wednesday morning.

The measure passed in spite of anti-abortionist efforts to change the language of the ballot and misinformation campaigns from far right groups. Republicans also unsuccessfully sought to make the measure more difficult to pass earlier this year, attempting to sneak a different constitutional ballot measure in the primary elections in August that would have required a supermajority vote result to enact the abortion rights provision.

“Ohio voters have officially come together and passed Issue 1!” Pro-Choice Ohio wrote on social media Tuesday night after it became clear that the abortion measure would pass. “Tonight has proven it — when Ohioans fight for what we believe in, we can accomplish the impossible.”

“The future is bright, and tonight we can celebrate this win for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights,” said Lauren Blauvelt, co-chair of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.

The measure will allow people in Ohio to access abortion rights without impediment in most cases. State lawmakers can still pass regulations on abortions after fetal viability, a timeline that’s regularly understood to be 22 to 24 weeks after a person gets pregnant. Even if abortions are regulated after that point, the procedure will be permitted if a doctor determines that a patient’s life or health is at risk.

Ohio is the seventh state in the country to vote on a state measure to protect abortion access for its residents, since the U.S. Supreme Court upended federal abortion rights in the summer of 2022.

Although Virginia’s state ballot didn’t include a referendum question on abortion rights, abortion was still very much on the mind of voters at the polls on Tuesday, as Republicans, led by GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, had made it clear throughout their campaigns that they would enact new regulations on the procedure if they won. Prior to this week, Republicans controlled the state House of Delegates and the governor’s office, but Democrats controlled the state Senate, and blocked several bills earlier this year attempting to restrict abortion rights in the state.

Voters kept Democrats in power in the Virginia Senate, and ousted enough Republicans in the House of Delegates to give Democrats control there as well. With Democrats now in control of both chambers of the state legislature, Youngkin’s attempts to enact restrictions on abortion will go nowhere.

Abortion rights proponents in Virginia heralded the outcome.

“Virginia voters loudly proclaimed their support for reproductive freedom by electing pro-reproductive rights majorities in the State Senate and House of Delegates,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia wrote in a statement on social media, adding, “Voters were not fooled by Governor Youngkin’s attempt to rebrand his abortion ban or anti-abortion politicians’ attempts to distract from the fact that they want to strip people of a fundamental human right to control their own bodies.”

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democratic incumbent in the state of Kentucky, also won reelection against Daniel Cameron, an anti-abortion Republican challenger, in a state that went for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election by 26 points.

Beshear defeated Cameron by more than 67,000 votes, or around 6 percentage points, according to the latest figures.

Observers of the race said that Beshear’s focus on protecting abortion rights played a critical role in his victory on Tuesday.

“Andy Beshear ran as a pro-choice Democrat in a GOP-dominated state and dared Republicans to come at him on abortion access and he’s running away with this reelection victory,” progressive political commentator Charlotte Clymer said on X. “It’s almost like voters don’t particularly enjoy the government controlling their health care choices.”

Abortion rights wasn’t the sole issue in Tuesday’s off-year races — a constitutional measure to legalize recreational marijuana use also passed in Ohio, for example — but the issue played a significant role in Tuesday night’s outcomes, indicating that Democrats can still win big in surprising places if they campaign on abortion protections.