Hi, everyone! Kate Smith here, senior director of news with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Thanks for coming back for the eighth and final installment of “Planned Parenthood Presents: The State of Abortion.” For this last post, we’re doing things a little bit differently. Instead of giving you updates on the latest state-level bans and legal fights we’re looking at ballot measures.
Last Tuesday, millions of Americans went to the ballot box to cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections.
Five states – California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont – asked voters to cast their decision on ballot measures related to abortion. And in each instance voters said “yes” to abortion access.
“In some of these states, abortion literally was on the ballot,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, discussing the five ballot measures in an exclusive interview with Planned Parenthood. “So that kind of activism and mobilization is going to be happening more and more at the state level, and that's a very grassroots kind of organizing that will take place in all those states that do not allow abortion access to change those laws.”
A career-long reproductive-rights champion, Sen. Hirono spoke about the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — which ended the constitutional right to abortion — and how that decision has changed abortion access across the country.
“There are some dozen states that restrict or totally outlaw abortion. And as these states continue to not provide that access, my hope is that there will be mobilization to change those laws in those states,” Hirono said.
In response to the Dobbs decision, she said she’s championing two bills targeted at sexual and reproductive health: The My Body My Data Act, which would protect reproductive health data, and the The Right to Contraception Act, which would codify the right to birth control access as recognized in the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut.
“You have [a] Supreme Court justice who [has] already signaled that contraception may be on their hit list,” Hirono said. “They signal that they are interested in revisiting certain cases... That's why we need to provide protections for contraception.”
But back to the results of abortion-related ballot measures in the midterm elections. When abortion was on the ballot, reproductive rights won. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans support the right to abortion, and we saw that in a direct way through the outcomes of ballot measures across the country.
Nearly all of this year’s ballot measures centered on state constitutions. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the federal constitutional right to abortion ended. However, some state supreme courts have found that their state constitution protect abortion rights. By amending their constitutions to explicitly protect reproductive health, states can ensure that abortion will remain legal and available.
Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, titled the “Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment.” The ballot measure “amends the California constitution to expressly include an individual’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom” which the initiative defined as including abortion and contraceptives.
California Proposition 1:
The Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment
"Amends California Constitution to expressly include an individual’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which includes the fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives. This amendment does not narrow or limit the existing rights to privacy and equal protection under the California Constitution."
Yes - 65.7%
No - 34.3
In Vermont, voters approved Proposal Five, the “Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment.” Similar to California, Proposal Five enshrines the right to abortion in the Vermont state constitution, by adding “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.” With almost all votes counted, nearly eighty percent of Vermont voters approved the measure.
Vermont Proposal 5:
The Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment
"To see if the voters will amend the Vermont Constitution by adding Article 22 to read:
Article 22. Personal reproductive liberty.
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.”
Yes - 76.7%
No - 23.3%
Source: New York Times
Since the Dobbs decision, the fate of legal abortion in Michigan has been in limbo. You can read more about those legal fights in these blog posts. But Tuesday's election results may put some of those fears to rest. Michigan voters approved the hard fought Proposal Three, the “Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative”, which creates a state constitutional right to “make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy”, including abortion.
Michigan Proposal 3:
The Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative
"A proposal to amend the state constitution to establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make all decisions about pregnancy and abortion; allow state to regulate abortion in some cases; and forbid prosecution of individuals exercising established right.
This proposed constitutional amendment would:
• Establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility;
• Allow state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health;
• Forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment;
• Invalidate state laws conflicting with this amendment"
Yes - 57%
No - 43%
Source: New York Times
In Kentucky, voters also supported abortion rights, but in the opposite way than they did in California, Vermont and Michigan. Kentuckians rejected Constitutional Amendment Two, the “No Right To Abortion In Constitution Amendment.”
It does exactly what it sounds like: if approved, it would have altered the state constitution to explicitly clarify that nothing in that state constitution creates a right to abortion. voters rejected the measure.
This ballot measure is particularly timely: the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kentucky implemented a total abortion ban, offering no exceptions for rape or incest. That ban was nearly as quickly challenged by the state’s abortion providers on the grounds it violates the Kentucky state constitution.
Yesterday the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments in that challenge. Had Amendment Two passed, providers would have had limited, narrow options left in their challenge. Now, because amendment two failed, it’s possible the court could block the bans and restore access for Kentuckians.
Kentucky Constitution Amendment Two:
No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment
“Are you in favor of amending the Constitution of Kentucky by creating a new Section of the Constitution to be numbered Section 26A to state as follows: 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?”
Yes - 52.4%
No - 47.6%
Source: New York Times
Montana voters also rejected a ballot initiative aimed at stigmatizing abortion and the health care professionals who provide them. Montanans said no to LR-131, the “Medical Care Requirements For Born-Alive Infants Measure”. The failed initiative was riddled with inflammatory language, medical misinformation, and attempted to regulate a situation that doctors say never happens.