Abortion rights were explicitly on the ballot in multiple states in the 2022 midterms, and voters’ message on the subject was resounding: In red states, blue states and swing states, every proposal that aimed to restrict abortion rights has been rejected, and every measure to support abortion rights has passed.
Though some results are still trickling in, thus far every ballot initiative that has been decided has clearly revealed that voters not only support abortion rights, but will also show up to defend them. This is a significant victory, particularly in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s demise and the end of the constitutional right to an abortion.
If the midterms were a referendum on anything, it was abortion.
Polls show that a quarter of voters said that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was the most important factor in their vote, and 70 percent said it was an important factor to them. More than half of Democratic voters said the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization had a major impact on their voting choices. And those who voted for Democratic House candidates were more likely to say the Dobbs decision mattered in their vote. For a party facing what many pundits predicted would be a brutal thrashing, support for abortion rights proved to have a significantly ameliorating effect its candidates’ showing in the midterms.
In the first national election since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, abortion was sure to be an issue. As the results continue to trickle in, however, abortion will likely continue to reveal itself as the core issue of this election.
For the first time ever, abortion was on the ballot in five states — California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont all enshrined the right to an abortion into their state’s constitution.
In Kentucky, a traditionally conservative state, voters rejected a proposal that would have stripped the right to an abortion in the state; in doing so, they kept in place a barrier that prevents hostile legislators from potentially banning abortion entirely.
And though results in Montana are still coming in, it looks as though the state’s Referendum 131, which would have required health care providers to sustain infants born at any stage, even those that have no chance of survival, and which would lay the groundwork for fetal personhood in the state, is poised to be rejected as well.
Abortion is a winning issue –– the results from the abortion ballot initiatives bear that out. The Democratic Party, a party in control of the presidency, Senate and House, facing a historic midterm slump amid a media frenzy over an inevitable “red wave,” ran on abortion –– and its candidates didn’t get walloped.
Control of Congress still hangs in the balance, but the 2022 midterm election results have already defied historical precedent and an insistent media narrative that the out-of-power Republican Party was sure to dominate. Many factors likely contributed to Democrats outperforming predictions, including a spate of weak Republican candidates in key races, like Herschel Walker in Georgia and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
While it looks like Democrats may lose control of the House, they have a shot at gaining a Senate seat, a prospect that seemed unthinkable just a week ago.
Unfortunately, however, the midterm results won’t change much for abortion rights at the federal level. With the filibuster still intact in the Senate, the Democratic Party will still lack the ability to pass a bill codifying Roe v. Wade. For now, at least, abortion remains illegal across vast swaths of the country.
“Despite these wins, we can’t lose sight of the fact that abortion is unavailable in 14 states right now, including 12 states with abortion bans that have virtually no exceptions and 2 states where there are no clinics providing care,” said Elizabeth Nash, Principal Policy Associate at the Guttmacher Institute, in an emailed statement.
The horrifying post-Roe America is still a reality for folks who live in those states, and these results don’t change that. But the midterm results do change the landscape for pregnant people in Michigan, a state that faced the impending implementation of a 1931 abortion ban, an outdated law passed by the Michigan legislature amid the Great Depression that made abortion illegal in the state. Roe v. Wade overrode that ban and kept abortion legal in Michigan, until Dobbs overturned Roe. Now that voters have enshrined abortion rights into the state constitution and re-elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who ran on abortion rights, the 1931 ban is dead. Abortion will remain legal in the state, and it will ease the burden on neighboring states like Illinois, which have become havens for abortion seekers from across the South and Midwest.
This midterm election offers a pathway forward in this unique moment of peril for abortion rights and for democracy more broadly. If the Democratic Party wants to win elections, it should run on abortion, but it also needs to act for abortion. Put abortion rights measures on the ballot in as many states as possible, including red states like Mississippi and Texas. Propose and advance legislation at the federal, state and local level that not only legalizes abortion, but also expands access and eradicates barriers such as the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funding of abortion care.
We won’t know the fate of Congress for a couple days, possibly even until the Georgia Senate run-off in December. At this point, however, regardless of who ultimately gains control of the House and Senate, legal abortion is the decisive winner. If Democrats want to keep running on abortion and ultimately winning, it’s well past time for them to deliver.
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