Dec 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Democrats eye Montana abortion ballot measure to boost Tester

People gather on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on May 7, 2022 for a rally to support abortion rights

People gather on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a rally to support abortion rights. Photo: South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Getty Images

Democrat-aligned groups are working to put a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on Montana's ballot next year, a move that would boost embattled Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's re-election bid.

Why it matters: Tester is one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2024. Democrats are clinging to a 51-seat majority in the chamber, so his campaign is critical to determining whether they keep control of the Senate in 2025.

  • The effort in Montana is part of a national strategy by Democrats to put abortion issues on the ballot in as many critical states as possible.
  • Abortion-rights measures have proved to be a powerful motivator for Democratic voters in several recent elections in other states, as the party is riding a wave of victories on the issue heading into 2024.

Driving the news: In late November, abortion-rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, filed paperwork in Montana to begin the lengthy process to get a constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot.

  • The proposed amendment — which is not final — would prohibit "the government from denying or burdening the right to abortion before fetal viability."
  • Tester has been supportive of the effort behind the scenes, a person familiar with the effort to Axios.

Between the lines: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a potential future presidential candidate who has been funding efforts to protect abortion rights across the country through his group Think Big America, is likely to make a financial and strategic investment in the Montana effort, according to a spokesperson.

  • Pritzker, a billionaire, and Think Big America donated $1 million to support the recent abortion-rights referendum in Ohio and $1 million to a campaign in Nevada to put a similar measure on the ballot there next year.
  • Nevada is a presidential swing state with a key Senate race as well.

The big picture: Democrats are working to put abortion-rights measures on the 2024 ballot, especially in politically divided states that will be crucial in the presidential election. Even in conservative states, voters have been rejecting Republican-led abortion bans that have been imposed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • Democrats in New York — which could be decisive in determining the majority in the House of Representatives — have put an amendment on the ballot next November that would protect abortion rights.
  • Progressives also are organizing in the key states of Arizona and Florida to put abortion rights measures on the ballot.
  • In Florida, a Feb. 1 deadline looms. But Pinecrest Vice Mayor Anna Hochkammer, who is leading the effort, believes supporters of a ballot initiative will meet the nearly 900,000-signature requirement.
  • In 2022, an abortion rights referendum in Michigan passed overwhelmingly and boosted Democrats across the state — giving the party the governorship and both chambers of the legislature for the first time in decades.

Montana is a conservative state, but last year voters there rejected a measure meant to restrict some abortion rights.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that it was Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana (not Planned Parenthood Action Fund) that filed paperwork for a ballot measure in Montana.

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