life after roe

Abortion Rights Swept the 2023 Elections

Photo: MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images

Abortion rights’ winning streak continued in Tuesday’s election, proving once again that — even in an off year — the issue is deeply popular with voters who remain outraged at the crisis of care caused by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In addition to passing a ballot measure protecting abortion rights, voters elected gubernatorial and legislative candidates who made abortion rights an emotional centerpiece of their campaigns.

In Ohio, the one state where abortion was explicitly on the ballot this year, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure, Issue 1, to enshrine reproductive rights in the state’s constitution. At stake was Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, which would outlaw the procedure before most people know they are pregnant. The measure, which Governor Mike DeWine signed into law in 2019, took effect immediately after Dobbs but was subsequently blocked by a state judge. While the case is currently before the state supreme court, the passage of the amendment means the law won’t go into effect.

Ohioans showed up for abortion rights despite Republicans’ herculean efforts to prevent them from doing so, which included suing the state ballot board to stop Issue 1 from getting in front of voters; forcing a special election to increase the approval threshold for ballot measures from 50 percent to 60 percent, purging nearly 30,000 active voters from the rolls; and an all-out misinformation campaign. They all failed.

Ballot measures have proved to be an effective tool to restore or protect abortion rights since the overturning of Roe. Anti-abortion campaigns have won in all seven states that have put the issue in front of voters. Ohio’s amendment is the first proactive measure to win in a Republican-controlled state — a state which Donald Trump, who bragged last year that he “was able to kill Roe v. Wade,” won with 53 percent of the vote in 2020.

Abortion rights also won the day in Virginia, where Democrats campaigned on protecting access. The party was not only able to retain its majority in the state senate, but also take back control of the House of Delegates. The victories crushed Republicans’ hopes of gaining control of the legislature and passing Governor Glenn Youngkin’s agenda, which includes banning abortion at 15 weeks. The results will ensure that Virginia remains a critical point of access for the South as the procedure is largely outlawed throughout the region. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, clinics in Virginia have provided at least 6,640 more abortions than they did before Dobbs, according to a report from #WeCount, which tracks in real time how abortion access has changed post-Roe.

In Kentucky, where voters decisively rejected a ballot measure last year that would establish there is no right to abortion under the state constitution, they showed up this time to reelect Democratic governor Andy Beshear. Beshear defeated Republican state attorney general Daniel Cameron, whose anti-abortion record became a core part of the campaign. In addition to saying he’d defend Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban, Cameron also filled out an anti-abortion group’s questionnaire that defined “abortion” to include certain methods of contraception, including “the so-called ‘standard birth control pill.’” He answered “yes” on questions about whether he’d support codifying fetal personhood from the moment of fertilization and criminalizing abortion providers. In a viral campaign ad, Beshear featured Hadley Duvall, a 21-year-old who said she was raped and impregnated by her stepfather at the age of 12. She later miscarried. In the ad, Duvall singled out Cameron by name. “Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes,” she said.

Next year when the GOP’s plans for a national abortion ban will be at stake in the presidential race and abortion rights will potentially be on the ballot in nearly a dozen states, voters will have their biggest opportunity yet to contain the post-Roe fallout. As Kelly Hall, the executive director of the Fairness Project, which helps organize ballot-measure campaigns across the country, said of Ohio’s ballot measure, “This incredible win proves what we’ve known since Dobbs: that voters are tired of seeing their politicians fail and are prepared to take on major fights to defend reproductive freedom themselves.”

The Cut offers an online tool you can use to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as for abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or the Abortion Defense Network.

Yesterday Proved (Again!) That Abortion Wins Elections