Read more Stateline coverage on how states protect or restrict access to abortion.
Buoyed by six wins — and zero defeats — in this month’s midterm elections, abortion rights advocates are considering another round of ballot measures in 2024 that would enshrine reproductive freedom in state constitutions.
This time, they’re targeting states with strong abortion restrictions already on the books, hoping to outflank anti-abortion state legislatures and courts that are out of step with most residents.
Based on the midterm elections, the presence of such initiatives on the ballot could also boost Democratic candidates. Contrary to predictions, abortion was the top issue for a large percentage of voters, especially those in states where an abortion measure was on the ballot, according to exit polls.
Only 17 states allow citizens, not just legislators, to vote on proposals to change the state constitution. Among them, abortion rights advocates in at least 10 states with abortion bans or strict restrictions — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — are already discussing strategies and tactics to support abortion initiatives. to initiate. in the 2024 presidential election.
“They’re starting now because the process of getting any measure on the ballot is very long,” said Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, which provides technical support for state ballot initiatives.
Abortion rights are particularly suited to the voting process, she said, because it gives voters the power to determine how they are governed when elected leaders are out of sync with public opinion.
Nationally, 6 in 10 Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a June 2022 poll by the Pew Research Center. (The Pew Charitable Trusts funds the center and State border.)
In an October poll, 59.1% of Ohioans said they would support an amendment to the state constitution for abortion rights. In July, 57% of Floridians said they disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade. And even in bright red Arkansas, a whopping 79% of respondents to a poll released earlier this month said abortion should be legal at least under certain circumstances.
In recent elections, progressive ballot measures to expand Medicaid to low-income people, legalize marijuana use, and raise the minimum wage have been successful in both the blue and red states.
“Our experience of using ballots in conservative states is that if we can remove the partisan labels from certain issues, we can win even in conservative parts of the country, and that’s what we saw happen this year with abortion and reproductive rights.” Hall said.
Ahead of the midterm elections, Clarke Forsythe, senior adviser at anti-abortion Americans United for Life, said he was concerned about abortion-affirming constitutional amendments in California, Michigan and Vermont, saying they would get the issue out of hand. would take from elected leaders.
So far, only abortion rights advocates in Oklahoma and South Dakota have filed constitutional amendment initiatives for the 2024 vote, according to Ballotpedia, which tracks elections in all 50 states. In addition, lawyers in Ohio are publicly discussing a similar measure, according to recent newspaper articles.
But for the approximately 34 million women of childbearing age who live in the 25 states where abortion is now or will soon be banned, waiting more than two years to access the procedure in their home state is not an option.
That’s why national abortion rights advocates are urging states where abortion remains legal to continue investing in funds to help low-income women who would have to travel for the procedure. Advocates are also urging abortion-friendly states to use state revenues to support clinics in preparation for an influx of patients.
In the meantime, national and state abortion advocates say they intend to pursue all legal and political strategies to gain access for as many patients as possible. Still, the prospects for expanding access to the procedure over the next two years in states with GOP-dominated legislatures and conservative courts after the midterm elections are dim.