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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abortion Rights Keep Winning at the Ballot Box

There’s not much question that the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision helped Democrats over-perform expectations in the 2022 midterms. But the pro-choice cause won direct victories on ballots as well, as I noted at New York:

In November 8’s midterm election, voters in Kentucky defeated a ballot measure that aimed to eliminate abortion rights from the state constitution. And voters in Michigan, Vermont, and California have amended their state constitutions to explicitly acknowledge abortion rights. The door to state abortion bans opened by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year when it reversed Roe v. Wade is being closed by voters whenever they have the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

In the days after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision turning abortion policy over to the states, Republican politicians and other opponents of legalized abortion looked with bad intent at places where courts had identified a state constitutional right to choose independent of Roe. They immediately found two red states, Kansas and Kentucky, where it was relatively easy to get a compliant, GOP-controlled legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot (the primary ballot in Kansas and the general-election ballot in Kentucky). The thinking was that in states where the electorate would lean even more conservative than usual due to a midterm Republican wave, it would be a snap to get “liberal” courts out of the way and give legislators the power to enact draconian anti-abortion laws.

This assumption was upended on August 2 when Kansas voters defeated the “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment, which would have ended state constitutional abortion rights, by a 59-41 margin. It was a stunning result in a state that Donald Trump had carried by a 56-42 margin in 2020, and it soon became apparent that a sizable minority of pro-choice Republican voters bucked their party leaders and elected officials by voting “no.”

By then, Democratic legislators in California and Vermont had already arranged for their own states to vote on constitutional amendments enshrining abortion rights. And after the Kansas vote, pro-choice advocates in Michigan secured enough petitions on a citizen-led abortion-rights initiative to get it on that state’s November ballot.

Kentucky’s “no right to abortion” initiative was losing by six points with 88 percent of the votes in, showing once again that some Republican voters remain pro-choice even if their politicians (e.g., Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who was easily reelected this year) are soldiers in the war on legalized abortion. Abortions are still largely illegal in the state by legislative statute, but at least the ban will not be made permanent via a proposed constitutional amendment. Michigan’s reproductive-rights constitutional amendment (Proposal 3) was approved by a double-digit margin. California’s very extensive abortion-rights constitutional amendment, Proposition 1, is being approved by nearly a two-to-one margin. And Vermont’s parallel Proposition 5 (guaranteeing a right to “reproductive freedom”) is winning by more than a three-to-one margin.

There was a much, much narrower ballot initiative at play in Montana, passed by the legislature long before Dobbs came down, requiring medical interventions to treat “born alive” survivors of botched abortions. It too is currently losing by a six-point margin. So there could be a pro-choice clean sweep at the polls. Reproductive-rights advocates and their Democratic allies are already planning additional ballot initiatives for 2024.

One comment on “Abortion Rights Keep Winning at the Ballot Box

  1. Wade Riddick on

    It’s true that Trump refusing to accept his loss in a fair competition drove people out to vote across the country. It’s also true that ending abortion rights drove high youth turnout, especially where ballot measures on the topic were contested.
    Understanding how both issues are related points the way towards still more successful ballot initiatives and state constitutional amendments in 2024 that could further drive turnout against the Republicans.
    The Big Lie is about losers killing competition in more than just elections. You see this in the Dobbs (2022) decision which boldly abolished privacy rights. How exactly do you have private property rights without a privacy right? How do you have free market competition without enforceable private property rights?
    Dare I say it?
    The very idea of a world without privacy is Communist.
    And didn’t Milton Friedman associate Communism with slavery? Are we paying these pregnant women for doing the hard work of making a rapist’s baby the way we might, say, pay young men drafted and sent to war – along with picking up their medical bills and paying a death benefit? Failing to quite literally value the hard work of women in the face of biological dangers consigns them to involuntary servitude in the 21st century.
    The Big Lie, gerrymandering, the loss of personal rights in Dobbs and high inflation that’s half-driven by cartel control of markets all point to the segregationist obsession with sabotaging competitions for power they can’t control. This is a fundamental contradiction Republican rhetoric can’t shake and this hypocrisy can be used to further fracture the Southern Strategy in 2024.
    Carefully chosen ballot initiatives can highlight those contradictions about markets and property rights in a way that creates wedge problems for the Republican coalition and taps into the deep unpopularity of their true agenda. Democrats need to drive turnout in 2024 by proposing state constitutional amendments to
    1) codify Roe and Griswold
    2) pay women wages for their labor whenever they’re forced by state power to have children (an anti-human trafficking provision)
    3) get felons back to voting in states where they can’t
    4) clarify the illegality of barring citizens with any financial debts, civil or otherwise, from voting (ax the Florida poll tax)
    5) stop gerrymandering (call it the “Defending Competitive Political Campaigns Act” or “Unrigging Political Races”)
    6) pay back citizens’ taxes if a bureaucrat ever stops them from voting (the “Patriot’s No Taxation Without Representation Provision.”)
    7) ban the use of donations from anonymous individuals from influencing politics in any way
    Any or all of these fairness measures could draw out voters for years to come.


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