Sep 22, 2022 - Health

Abortion looms over 2022 state ballots

Illustration of a ballot with chads in the shape of Vermont, Montana, Michigan, Kentucky, California, and Kansas
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Five forthcoming state ballot initiatives on abortion rights could add fissures to the fractured post-Roe landscape and the evolving patchwork of reproductive health policies.

The big picture: The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to an abortion has hardened sentiments in red and blue states and put critical access questions in front of voters this fall.

  • Kansas showed how potent the issue is in driving turnout last month, when voters during state primary elections overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have struck abortion protections in the state's constitution.
  • The turnout of more than 900,000 was nearly half of all registered voters in the state, and almost double the amount of voters that Kansas normally sees in a primary election.

State of play: Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont have proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot next month that aim to protect abortion access.

  • Kentucky and Montana voters will face questions on further restricting abortion rights and conferring legal rights on fetuses.

The Kansas vote could be viewed as a positive for Democrats, who have made abortion rights a pillar of their midterm strategy.

  • But things may not be as clear cut for those at the polls. Advocates on both sides are campaigning hard, aware that success or failure could boil down to their ground games.
Michigan

The ballot has a proposed amendment that would create a right to "reproductive freedom," including the option to choose an abortion. It also would allow the state to regulate abortion after the point of "fetal viability" but not prohibit it if medically necessary.

  • Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocates started gathering signatures to put it on the ballot in January. But the path proved rocky: the state elections board deadlocked on approving the proposal, citing formatting errors. In early September, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the measure met the legal requirements to be added to the ballot.
  • Christen Pollo, the spokesperson for Citizens to Support Michigan Women , which is campaigning against the amendment, said the measure goes too far.
  • "If passed we are stuck with this in our constitution," Pollo told Axios. "Our message is pretty simple. If you don’t want your voice silenced forever, just vote 'no.'"
California

Voters will decide whether to enact an amendment that adds a "fundamental right to choose to have an abortion" to their state constitution.

  • The state already protects access to abortion until viability through a state law, but advocates believe they must go further to "safeguard those rights from future attacks," said state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D), the lead author.
  • The measure is likely to be adopted. Approximately 71% of California voters said they plan to vote in support of the amendment, according to a late August poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.
Vermont

A ballot initiative proposes a state constitutional amendment declaring "an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy," which includes the option to choose an abortion.

  • Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood in Vermont, told Axios she started campaigning for the measure in 2018, when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, a development she saw as the prelude to a conservative supermajority of justices.
  • The amendment has already met a requirement that it pass both chambers of the state legislature in consecutive sessions before going to voters.
  • Though Vermont is seen as a progressive stronghold, Leriche said she wants to ensure that a future legislature with different views won't be able to dial back reproductive rights.
Montana

The issue on the ballot focuses on giving infants who survive later abortions status as "legal persons" and would impose criminal penalties on health providers who do not act to preserve the life of what amendment opponents term "nonviable infants."

  • The state legislature could have passed the bill instead of putting it on the ballot. However, state Rep. Matt Regier (R) told Axios that it was a "pivotal" issue that state lawmakers believed should "go directly to the people."
  • Hillary-Anne Crosby, campaign coordinator and communications lead for Compassion for Montana Families, which is campaigning against the measure, said that voters are "appalled" by the "extreme and deceptive" measure and that health providers oppose it because it is not "medically-informed."
Kentucky

While the state is already one of those that ban abortion, residents will vote on a measure that would ensure the state constitution does not "secure or protect a right to abortion, or require the funding of abortion."

  • The amendment would "ensure" that a state court or the Kentucky Supreme Court cannot "invent a right to an abortion in our Constitution," said David Walls, executive director of the Family Foundation, an anti-abortion group and member of the Yes For Life Alliance, which is campaigning in support of the amendment.
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