Residents of California, Kentucky and Vermont will decide on their own if their state constitutions should protect abortion access
WASHINGTON — Voters in at least three states will decide what abortion access looks like at the polls in November, becoming some of the first Americans to deliver their own verdicts on the decision of the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Voters in at least three states will decide what abortion access looks like for their neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family.
The citizens of California, Kentucky, and Vermont will vote on whether or not the abortion provision in their state constitutions should be protected. Voters in Michigan are likely to join them, despite the fact that officials are working through a challenge from an organization opposed to abortion, which contended that the petition content is “confusing nonsense” due to numerous inaccuracies.
Because people rarely vote for candidates based on just one issue, it is anticipated that the ballot questions will provide a clearer picture of voters’ opinions on abortion than which candidates they vote for during the midterm elections. One reason for this expectation is that people vote for candidates less frequently than they vote for ballot questions.
This might make ballot questions a popular method for states to choose when and how pregnant patients can receive elective or medically required abortions, which could potentially counter abortion prohibitions that have been levied in certain states as a result of the Supreme Court verdict. Initiatives on the ballot might even provide some lawmakers with an opportunity to sidestep contentious discussions.
According to Lonna Atkeson, who is the LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar in Civic Education and Political Science at Florida State University, “If I were a savvy politician, this is exactly what I would want to achieve.” “I’d like to take it out of my hands and try to figure out what the public wants so that it doesn’t create problems with my reelection objectives,” he said. “I’d like to take it out of my hands.”
According to Atkeson, who is the director of the nonpartisan think tank the LeRoy Collins Institute and a member of the MIT Data and Election Science Board, ballot questions might provide Republican politicians the chance to declare “I’m pro-life, I think life is essential… but I respect the people.”
She continued by saying, “It’s even terrific for Democrats in a way.” “I think it even affords Democrats the same release valve if the electorate wants a more nuanced approach, if they want some restrictions. If the electorate wants some limits. Therefore, this is a significant benefit.”
According to Ballotpedia, efforts are currently being made in the states of Iowa, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington in order to have questions on the ballot in the subsequent two years.
Kansas was the first state.
After the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the court’s conservative justices decided to end the constitutional right to abortion and send the issue “to the people and their elected representatives,” voters in Kansas were the first in the country to render an opinion on abortion access. This decision came after the conservative justices decided to end the constitutional right to abortion and send the issue “to the people and their elected representatives.”
59% of voters in Kansas favored keeping abortion protected under the state constitution, while 41% wanted to abolish those protections, which was an unexpected victory for proponents of abortion rights. Their exclusion would have cleared the way for MPs opposed to abortion to adopt legislation that most likely would have imposed additional restrictions on the procedure had it been in place.
Ally Boguhn, the communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, stated that the organization will be working with its allies in states to examine whether or not ballot issues represent a road forward for expanding or maintaining access to abortion services.
“I think that the success that we saw in Kansas is making people look again at ballot measures all over the country,” Boguhn said. “[T]he success that we saw in Kansas was in Kansas.”
According to Boguhn, the large margin of victory enjoyed by proponents of abortion rights in the state of Kansas “leaves no doubt that this is a truly winning issue and that voters are really anxious to weigh in.”
After the Supreme Court issued its decision on abortion earlier this summer, the senior attorney for Americans United for Life, Clarke Forsythe, stated in a statement that ballot questions may “play a role” in the aftermath of the decision. The organization denied an interview request.
According to Forsythe, organizations advocating for abortion rights “may assume that if they can outspend the pro-life side, ballot initiatives and referenda are a better arena for them.” This is because ballot initiatives and referenda are less likely to be influenced by special interests.
“That may be part of the reality of the post-Dobbs political landscape that pro-life Americans will have to confront,” said Forsythe. “That is something that pro-life Americans will have to deal with.”
The decision in Kansas ran counter to how Kansans have voted for candidates for the statehouse and for Congress, which may suggest that while Kansas voters typically favor Republican elected representatives and most of the programs they support, they also want abortion to remain legal.
Since the 1930s, Kansas voters have not elected a Democrat to serve in the United States Senate, and the state is currently represented in that body by Republican U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, who are both against abortion. Republicans have held a majority in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate for many years.
Voters in the state have, on the other hand, alternated between electing Democratic and Republican governors. In 2018, however, voters in the state narrowly chose Democratic candidate Laura Kelly, an advocate for abortion rights.
Because gerrymandering has skewed state legislative and congressional districts, Beth Reingold, a professor of political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Emory University in Atlanta, suggested that ballot questions could be a way for majority rule on abortion.
According to Reingold, “I think in some ways a lot of people are looking at the ballot initiatives as the one final choice, or the last big hope for majority rule.” “For the simple reason that the legislatures and the courts have more or less been taken over by minority rule.”
Reingold stated that it is difficult to anticipate at this time whether or not ballot questions will become a common approach to address abortion rights in the post-Dobbs period, or whether or not voters may consider ballot questions every few years, similar to the way they vote on candidates’ reelections.
“It’s difficult to make accurate forecasts. “However, the more it appears that the ballot initiative is the only or best alternative for a particular side, then absolutely,” she replied.
Votes taken at the state level on abortion
However, as Reingold pointed out, ballot initiatives are not present in all states.
Twenty-five states have laws that allow for direct initiatives, in which voters have the ability to put questions directly on the ballot, and indirect initiatives, in which the proposal is first presented to the state legislature. Direct initiatives have a higher success rate than indirect initiatives.
There are a number of states, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and South Dakota, in which residents have at least one avenue to pursue in order to have a question placed on the statewide ballot.
There are, however, various methods available for obtaining a referendum on abortion at the state level.
When voters in California, Kentucky, and Vermont head to the polls later this year, they will be voting on a constitutional amendment that has been legislatively referred to them. This means that state lawmakers first voted to amend their state’s constitution, and now they are trying to get the approval of the voters for the change.
Voters in Kentucky will be asked if they support amending the state constitution to include the following phrase: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” If they vote in favor of the amendment, it will be ratified.
Voters in California will have the opportunity to decide whether or not they support amending their constitution to state that the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions,” which includes the fundamental right of an individual to choose whether or not to have an abortion as well as the fundamental right of an individual to choose whether or not to use contraceptives.
According to surveys conducted by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, around 71% of people living in the state intend to vote yes on the California ballot question.
The people of Vermont will vote on whether or not to add a clause to the state constitution that states “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 upon unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.” This clause would read as follows: “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course.”
This past summer, residents of the state of Kansas were given the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that had been recommended to them by their state legislature. These residents chose to maintain the constitutional protections afforded to abortion access.
Voters can also be consulted by state legislatures regarding state laws.
This is exactly what occurred in Montana the year before last, when state lawmakers voted to place a question on this year’s ballot, asking residents whether they want state law to say that a “born-alive infant, including an infant born in the course of an abortion, must be treated as a legal person under the laws of the state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” The question will ask residents whether they want state law to say that a “born-alive infant, including an infant
A greater number of states in 2023
It can take state politicians or individuals many months to get a ballot issue in front of voters. As a result, attempts have already begun in a number of states to meet the conditions for abortion-related referenda despite the fact that this process can take a while.
According to Ballotpedia, the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington are on track to have ballot initiatives on abortion in the year 2023. The next year, prospective statewide votes could take place in the states of Iowa, Nevada, and South Dakota.
According to Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, the wording of upcoming questions that will appear on ballots could play a big role in influencing whether or not voters choose to approve or reject the questions.
“Especially in some of the states that lean Democratic, if you put constitutional amendments on the ballot that say ‘There should be an unrestricted right to abortion, it doesn’t matter when it takes place in the course of the pregnancy,’ that may fare differently than a conservative ballot initiative or constitutional amendment referendum that would say ‘We’re going to ban abortion at all times, with no exceptions,'” she said. “If you put constitutional amendments on the ballot that say ‘There should
Gillespie continued by saying, “So I believe we’ll have to really be careful to remember that phrasing matters, and you’re not going to have nearly an apples to apples comparison.”