In a few areas, like Michigan, where an abortion restriction might become permanently unenforceable for the first time since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, millions of people will soon decide the future of abortion access.
Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont will decide on Tuesday whether to include provisions for reproductive freedom in their state constitutions, while those in Kentucky may choose to expressly reject such protections.
If a ballot measure is approved in Montana, medical professionals in the state might be charged with a crime if they fail to take “reasonable efforts” to save a newborn who is born alive, including following an attempted abortion.
Medical professionals have vehemently opposed the legislation and its suggested penalties, which include a possible $50,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.
Such a “cruel” regulation, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, would require intensive therapies in cases that are incredibly complex and could “prolong suffering and deprive families the ability to offer solace or spiritual care.”
The referendums were held more than four months after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, a significant decision that had established an abortion right as a constitutional right.
The court left it up to the states to either restrict or expand abortion rights after overturning the norm from the previous 50 years. This led to Kansas passing one pro-abortion ballot initiative in the summer and five more this fall. According to the unbiased National Conference of State Legislatures, it is the most ballot initiatives pertaining to abortion that have been submitted in a single year.
It has made Michigan, a crucial battlefield this year, a place where the stakes are especially high. A 1931 state law that forbids abortion without exception for rape or incest would be invalidated if Proposal 3, a referendum initiative to establish a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, prevails.
Leading opposition group Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children slammed the proposal as “confusing and extreme.” A spokeswoman for the organization, Christen Pollo, claimed that it would have “serious ramifications for women and children in our state.”
A judge temporarily stopped the anti-abortion law’s enforcement in August after it had lain dormant for decades due to Roe v. Wade. A month later, an state court ruled the law to be unlawful. However, proponents of the ballot measure claimed there was a possibility of an appeal of the ruling.
The ruling would not be overturned if abortion rights were codified in the state constitution, according to Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. She noted that it would also prevent upcoming administrations from imposing tough regulations.
The incumbent Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, has been a strong supporter of abortion rights, but she is facing a challenge from Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, who in a discussion with Whitmer referred to the abortion ballot question as “radical.”
Every cycle, the tables flip, according to Wells Stallworth. The right to reproductive freedom is guaranteed by the Michigan constitution, regardless of who is in government, sitting on the bench, or serving as state attorney general.
The converse might occur in Kentucky, where a voter initiative could impose further limitations.
Voters will decide whether to change the state constitution to specifically specify that money for abortions and the right to an abortion are not protected.
The Roe v. Wade decision caused Kentucky’s “trigger laws” to become effective during the summer, essentially outlawing abortion in the state. Supporters of abortion rights are challenging those laws.
According to Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky who specializes in elections and voting, if the amendment is approved, it will be far more difficult for proponents of abortion rights to continue their legal battles.
According to Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for the group Protect Kentucky Access, which opposes the initiative, it would be extremely difficult to reopen legal avenues for abortion in Kentucky.
There is now pending litigation regarding state laws that prohibit abortion in almost all circumstances. “If the modification is approved, the legal actions related to those cases essentially finish.”
If the amendment is rejected, there is still a chance that pro-abortion litigation will win out in the courts. More significantly, Voss said, the Kentucky Supreme Court might also heed the opinions of the electorate when it hears oral arguments on the issue one week following the election.
Sweet is optimistic after directing a similar election effort in conservative Kansas in August with success.
Voters in Kansas soundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed protections for abortion rights in the first election since Roe v. Wade was reversed.
The proposition was defeated by 59% of voters, who turned out in numbers that the secretary of state described as “extremely high.”
What Kansas demonstrated for us, Sweet continued, “and what I hope we can demonstrate in Kentucky, is that this subject is actually tremendously unifying.”
According to a nationwide NBC News poll conducted in May, support for abortion rights has risen to a record high and over two-thirds of Americans oppose the Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade.
More people are affected by abortion than we realize, according to Sweet.