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Abortion Rights Win in Several Statewide Ballot Initiative Contests

Polling conducted prior to the midterms shows that abortion is a critical issue for voters.

Pro choice supporters gather outside the Michigan State Capitol during a "Restore Roe" rally in Lansing, on September 7, 2022.

On Tuesday, voters in several states moved to protect abortion rights in the midterm elections.

Three states — Michigan, Vermont and California — had pro-abortion measures on the ballot alongside regular midterm election contests. Montana and Kentucky had anti-abortion measures on the ballot, which voters appear to have rejected.

In Michigan, the newly passed measure enshrines abortion rights in the state constitution, stating that an individual has the “right to reproductive freedom, including the right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy.” The new amendment supersedes an antiquated state law, established in 1931, that banned abortion in almost every circumstance.

The Michigan amendment faced obstacles at almost every turn — even after enough ballot drive signatures had been attained, GOP officials on the Board of State Canvassers mounted legal challenges against the measure in an attempt to exclude it from the ballot. The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately intervened, ruling in September that residents should be able to vote on the amendment.

As of Wednesday morning, over 55 percent of ballots submitted for the question contained votes in favor of adding the amendment to the constitution.

In California, a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion passed by nearly a 2 to 1 margin, according to the latest numbers.

The California state Supreme Court had previously asserted through an interpretation of the state constitution that the right to privacy extended to abortion rights. But because similar arguments were made in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which was recently dismantled by the right-wing federal Supreme Court, California voters sought to enshrine an explicit right to abortion in the state constitution.

Voters in Vermont also moved to enshrine an amendment protecting abortion rights in their state constitution. The new provision states that “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

According to the latest figures, the measure passed by a 3 to 1 margin.

Meanwhile, voters in Kentucky rejected an anti-abortion amendment, similar to a measure that failed in Kansas earlier this year. Kentucky currently recognizes abortion protections through a ruling made by the state Supreme Court; Republicans had sought to pass an amendment rejecting that recognition, which would have allowed the state legislation to implement major restrictions on the procedure.

Voters in Montana also appear poised to reject an anti-abortion measure. The measure is based on unscientific “born alive” language and could impose criminal penalties on doctors for carrying out critical health care treatments. As of Wednesday morning, ballot totals show that the measure has been rejected by about a 5-point margin.

Polling conducted prior to the midterms showed that abortion would be a critical issue for voters. More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed in an Economist/YouGov poll published earlier this week said they were thinking “a lot” about the issue of abortion when deciding who to vote for.

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