DemDaily: Abortion on the Ballot. Today’s Election

November 7, 2023

Abortion is on the ballot in today's elections, as the fallout from the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade continues to dominate federal, state and local elections.

The Court's stunning June 2022 reversal of a woman's right to choose abortion, which had been the constitutional rule of law for almost 50 years, turned the authority to implement abortion laws over to individual states.

The ruling sparked national outrage and triggered a wave of restrictive laws across the country, as well as legal challenges and initiatives that are having a profound and sustained electoral impact.

Abortion was the primary issue driving 27% of voters nationwide in the 2022 midterm elections. The issue has proved to be a huge vulnerability for conservative Republicans, and is credited with preventing the anticipated GOP "red wave" last year -- which allowed Democrats to maintain control of the US Senate.

In the November 7 elections, the abortion battlegrounds are Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky, with major implications for the 2024 presidential elections - now just one year away.

Ohio
In the most direct test of voters' views on abortion, Ohioans will vote on a citizen-initiated amendment to establish a state constitutional right to "make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to" decisions about abortion."

The amendment would enable the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability, except when “necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

If successful, the increasingly conservative Midwest battleground, which Donald Trump won by 8% in 2020, would be the only Republican state to enshrine reproductive freedoms in the state's constitution.

Abortion is currently legal in Ohio for up to 21 weeks and six days of pregnancy. There is pending litigation, however, over a 2019 law signed by Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine, which bans abortion after any embryonic cardiac activity can be detected. The law makes an exception for danger to the life of the mother, but not for cases of rape or incest.

A preliminary injunction blocking the "Heartbeat Act" from implementation was lifted after the Supreme Court reversed federal abortion protections under Roe, but it was stayed again by a common pleas court in October 2022 while litigation continues.

To preempt a court decision, abortion rights groups launched a successful petition drive to put a constitutional amendment, the Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative, on the November 7, 2023 ballot.

In an effort to thwart passage of the pro-abortion amendment, the Republican legislature called an August 2023 special election referendum to raise the requirement to amend the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority of 50%+1 to a 60% supermajority -- making it more difficult to pass the abortion rights amendment in November.

The 60% Vote Requirement to Approve Constitutional Amendments Measure, however, was resoundingly rejected by a vote of 57% to 43% -- underscoring the significance of abortion access to both Democratic and Republican voters.

As of November 4, special interest groups from both sides had spent more than $53 million to argue their case to the voters.

Based on early voting reports, the turnout in this election is already outpacing the August special election by 14% in what could be record participation. Voters are also motivated by another initiative on the ballot to legalize marijuana.

Virginia
The impact of the legislative elections in Virginia, the only state in the south where abortion remains legal, will reach far beyond the borders of the Old Dominion.

All 140 seats in the General Assembly -- 100 in the House of Delegates and 40 in the state Senate -- are up in the November 7 election, which could see one or both chambers flip party control.

Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the State Senate, 22-18, while Republicans maintain slight control in the House of Delegates, 52-48.

The results, in the blue-leaning state that flipped to the GOP with the 2021 gubernatorial election, will also be viewed as a barometer of both conservative Governor Glenn Youngkin's policies and the national political mood ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Abortion is the flashpoint for no less than a dozen critical legislative races, with 60% of Virginians saying it is “very important” to their vote this year, up 14% points since 2019.

In all, about $72 million, including money from national groups, has been spent on advertising in the state.

Abortion is legal in Virginia through 26 weeks and six days, with an exception for danger to the life of the mother in the third trimester. Youngkin advocates for a 15-week ban on abortion, with exception for rape, incest and danger to the mother's life.

An October 11-16 Washington Post-Schar School survey of registered voters showed, despite expressing broad support for the current law, Virginians are split on Youngkin’s 15-week proposal, with 46% in favor and 47% opposed to it.

Kentucky
The gubernatorial race in Kentucky, where popular incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear is being challenged by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, is being closely watched as a snapshot of how red state voters are feeling on a number of issues -- most notably abortion.

A reliably Republican state in presidential elections, Kentucky hasn't voted for a Democratic nominee since Bill Clinton in 1996. It elected Donald Trump by a 25.9% margin in 2020 -- making The Bluegrass State the reddest in the country with a Democratic governor.

As the result of a 2019 law that took effect after the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe, Kentucky currently bans abortion in all cases, except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. The state law does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Beshear, a pro-choice moderate, has effectively made the state's extreme abortion ban the primary focus of debates and TV ads, attacking Cameron for failing to support exemptions and claiming "My opponent’s position would give a rapist more rights than their victim." Cameron, in turn, has called Beshear an “extremist” who “vetoed every pro-life bill he saw because Planned Parenthood and Joe Biden said so.”

The two candidates and their allies have spent more than $70 million combined on advertising.

A November 1-2, 2023 survey of likely voters by Data for Progress showed Beshear leading Cameron 50%-48%.

Have you voted? IWILLVOTE.COM. Questions? 833.336.8683

Of Note: The other battleground election up today is the Mississippi gubernatorial election, where four-term Public Commissioner and former Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley (D), a second cousin of Elvis Presley, has mounted a formidable challenge to incumbent GOP Governor Tate Reeves.

Presley, a moderate, pro-life populist, is Democrats' first hope in over two decades of retaking the Governor's mansion. Although Reeves has attempted to tie Presley to liberal pro-choice groups, both candidates support the state’s sweeping abortion ban -- which makes exceptions for danger to the life of the mother, or for cases of rape or incest where charges have been brought by law enforcement.

Related
DemDaily: Eyes on Kentucky 11/2/23
DemDaily: The Hope of Mississippi 10/30/23
DemDaily: Countdown to Virginia, Your Guide to the Elections 10/24/23
DemDaily: Ohio Voters Reject Referendum in Victory for Abortion Rights 8/9/23

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Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, AP, Clarion-Ledger, Ballotpedia, ABC, CNN, NPR

 

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