Voters across the U.S. delivered several decisive victories for the right to abortion in the first election since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June by the Supreme Court. A surprise came in GOP-leaning Kentucky, making a potential path for abortion access to be reinstated in a state that claims one of the country’s most restrictive bans.
Michigan Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer was reelected by campaigning as a champion of women’s right to an abortion. Voters passed a ballot initiative that will put the right to an abortion in the state constitution and prevent an abortion ban from 1931 from taking effect.
In North Carolina, the GOP failed to win a veto-proof legislative supermajority, ensuring that Democrat Governor Roy Cooper continues to wield power to block abortion restrictions in a state that has proved to be a crucial point of access for women seeking abortions in the Southeast U.S.
Abortion rights successes confirmed the political trend that emerged in August, just two months after the fall of Roe, when conservative voters in Kansas rejected a similar amendment to the one defeated by voters in Kentucky. Results show that while Republican lawmakers have grabbed onto the moment to put more restrictions in place, moves that the voting public sees differently. About 6 in 10 voters in the midterm believe that abortion should stay legal in most or all cases, according to exit polling.
Polls also show that almost 3 in 10 voters across the country said abortion was the most critical issue in their vote, with around 4 in 10 voters saying they remain “angry” that Roe v. Wade was overturned.
According to Tamarra Wieder, state director for Kentucky Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, a “unifying message” emerged from the midterms. “Abortion transcends party lines.”
Activists from both sides of the issue closely monitored major state-level contests where abortion access continues to be a vital issue. Many gubernatorial races were seen as crucial for abortion rights, including in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Democrats Tony Evers and Josh Shapiro were predicted to triumph, along with Arizona, where the race is too close to call.
Exit polling shows abortion key issue
According to exit polling, nearly half of voters in Michigan said abortion was the critical issue deciding their vote. Michigan’s voters saw abortion as the most important issue, above inflation.
Abortion also proved to be the top concern for voters in Pennsylvania. More than one-third of voters chose abortion as their biggest issue.
Voters in solidly blue states, including Vermont and California, cast their ballots for abortion on Tuesday. Both states approved amendments that explicitly protect the right to abortion in their state constitutions.
In Kentucky, many GOP voters seemed to have cast ballots in favor of abortion rights as they decisively reelected Senator Rand Paul, one of the Senate’s most conservative members. The referendum in Kentucky sought to amend the state constitution to clarify that it doesn’t protect the right to an abortion, making it almost impossible to challenge any antiabortion legislation in court.
In Kentucky, abortion has almost entirely been illegal since summer. For abortions to be allowed to resume, abortion advocates would need to achieve a victory when next week, the Kentucky Supreme Court will have the opportunity to decide whether the state constitution protects abortion rights.