It’s an off-off year for US elections, but somehow, abortion is still on the ballot.
A year after nationwide rage over the US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade crushed Republican hopes for a “red wave” in the midterms, Democrats are trying to once again harness that anger to defeat Republicans in the relatively few states holding 2023 elections. The GOP, on the other hand, is still scrabbling over how to talk about an issue that could not only cost them seats this year but also lead them to lose the White House in 2024.
The elections in November will help both parties fine-tune their messaging on abortion, as well as determine the future of some of the last states in the south and midwest that have access to the procedure. Here’s what you need to know about where and how Americans will vote on abortion this year.
Last year, deep-red Kentucky stunned the nation when voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have clarified that the state constitution does not protect abortions. Now, abortion could be the deciding issue in the governor’s race between the incumbent governor, Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and the current attorney general, Daniel Cameron, a Republican.
Kentucky law currently bans abortion in almost all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest. Cameron has long supported the ban. Although he indicated in September that he would approve a bill adding exceptions for rape and incest, he suggested a few weeks later that he would do so only “if the courts made us change that law”, according to a recording of a conversation obtained by the Associated Press.
Beshear has attacked Cameron for his longtime hardline stance on abortion, releasing an ad featuring a young woman discussing being raped by her stepfather.
“I was raped by my stepfather after years of sexual abuse. I was 12,” the woman says to the camera in the ad. “This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable.”
Mississippi, home to the case that toppled Roe as well as a near-total abortion ban, is one of the few places where Democrats are not relying on abortion to win races. Instead, Brandon Presley is focusing his run for governor on his pledge to expand Medicaid.
Presley is explicitly trying to cast himself as a maverick within the Democratic party when it comes to abortion. In a recent ad, Presley tapped a Bible and told the camera that the text was “why I’m pro-life”.
In contrast with Democrats in Mississippi, Democrats in New Jersey are hammering Republicans on abortion even though rights to the procedure are not at serious risk in the state. One Democrat running for state senate released an ad accusing her opponent of wanting to “give aborted tissue legal personhood”.
“If Republicans win our statehouse this year, we can expect Florida-style restrictions on our healthcare rights,” she warned in the ad.
Republicans’ chances of winning control in New Jersey are slim. The state is home to nearly a million more registered Democrats than Republicans. Plus, New Jersey legislators have already passed laws recognizing abortion as a fundamental right.
While 2022 saw a flurry of ballot initiatives on abortion rights, Ohio is the only state this year to vote directly on abortion, through a referendum on whether to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. The state has a six-week abortion ban, which is frozen due to ongoing litigation. It could come roaring back to life if the referendum fails.
In August, Ohio voters defeated another referendum that would have made it far more difficult to amend the state constitution – which many saw as an attempt by the state GOP to hurt the November vote on abortion. Republicans won a key victory this fall when they successfully altered the text of the ballot to describe the referendum with language such as “unborn child”. Proponents of the referendum say the new language of the ballot, which is what Ohioans will see in the voting booth, is misleading.
Still, abortion rights supporters have so far won every ballot initiative in the country on the issue since Roe fell, and their chances look good in Ohio. Nearly 60% of Ohio voters plan to vote to amend the state constitution, according to a mid-October poll from Baldwin Wallace University.
Pennsylvania, a historically purple state, has long been viewed as a bellwether for how issues like abortion will play with voters on the national stage. Now, eyes are on one race there: the battle for a seat on the state supreme court, between the Republican Carolyn Carluccio and the Democrat Dan McCaffery.
The election will not decide party control of the supreme court, because Democrats already have a 4-2 majority. But, since disputes over abortion rights regularly end up in state supreme courts, one more Republican on the bench could make the difference in future fights.
McCaffery is making abortion a key part of his campaign, frequently bringing it up on the campaign trail.
“It’s pretty clear from a personal standpoint that I believe those particular issues are best decided between a woman, her conscience and her doctor,” he told Politico in August.
Meanwhile, Carluccio has tried to downplay her stance on the issue. Her campaign website removed language that described her as a “defender” of “all life under law”, and demurred when a reporter asked whether the Pennsylvania state constitution contains privacy rights that may protect abortion access, as some experts have argued. “The Pennsylvania constitution is different in certain ways,” she told a Pennsylvania NPR affiliate.
For the past few years, control over Virginia has flipped back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. Now, with the GOP in control of one legislative chamber as well as the governor’s mansion, they could once again win a trifecta in the state – and pass a 15-week abortion ban.
Virginia is one of the few places where Republicans are openly discussing not only abortion, but also their interest in banning it past 15 weeks of pregnancy. If that ban goes into effect, it will affect the entire south-east United States, if not the entire country. Virginia is the only southern state that has not significantly restricted abortion since Roe fell, and abortion seekers across the south are fleeing there for the procedure. Since it has become far more difficult to get abortions, abortion providers say they are seeing patients later and later in pregnancy. For those providers, the fall of Roe has made preserving access to abortion past 15 weeks even more crucial.
Abortion is one of the top issues in the election, and 72% of voters support keeping Virginia abortion law as is or making it less restrictive, according to recent polling from the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University. However, when asked about a 15-week abortion ban, voters were more circumspect. Just 54% said they oppose such a ban.
Republicans and Democrats are also in a dead heat: 42% of voters say they plan to support the Democratic candidate in their local race for the state legislature, while 41% say they will support the Republican candidate.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/26/us-states-abortion-voting-2023-elections Abortion on the ballot: six US states with elections in 2023 | Abortion