Updated Feb 5, 2024 - Politics

Why abortion won't be on the Texas ballot

An abortion rights activist in a March in Austin.

Abortion rights activists in Austin in 2022. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A series of wins for abortion rights supporters have energized Democrats around the country — but abortion access itself won't be on the Texas ballot in November.

Why it matters: Texas remains a deeply red state, and even as Democratic activists and politicians see abortion rights as a winning issue, they won't be able to put the sort of potentially galvanizing referendum on the ballot in November that could drive voters — especially swing suburban voters — their way.

How it works: Amendments to the Texas Constitution can be put before voters only after being approved by two-thirds of each body of the Legislature.

Yes, and: The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, which has ratcheted down abortion access, was not about to vote during last year's legislative sessions to put such a question before voters.

Zoom out: In Kansas, the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court recognized the right to abortion, prompting the Republican-controlled Legislature to ask voters in 2022 to effectively veto that decision.

  • But voters instead supported keeping that right protected, giving hope to progressives after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile: Democrats have also notched abortion-related victories in red or swing states like Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio.

  • In Montana, Democrat-aligned groups are working to put a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on the state ballot this November, as part of a strategy to boost vulnerable Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's re-election bid.
  • Progressives also are organizing in the key states of Arizona and Florida to put abortion rights measures on the ballot.

The other side: Republicans had a long winning streak of their own on abortion, culminating in the 2022 decision to end federal protections on abortion.

What they're saying: "Polling suggests that abortion remains an issue that should be advantageous to Democrats, but which they lack the political leverage to exploit directly," Jim Henson and Joshua Blank observed last month in their Texas Politics Project blog.

By the numbers: Only 13% of Republicans say they support a complete ban on abortion when the woman's health is in danger, 19% if the woman became pregnant as a result of rape, and 27% if there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect, per polling conducted last year by UT.

  • In those situations, 2%, 2% and 3%, respectively, of Democrats polled support a ban.
  • Overall, 38% of Texans polled approved of how lawmakers handled abortion in the last legislative session.

Reality check: "Trust women and their doctors" was a key talking point in 2022 for the Democrats' statewide candidates — when the most prominent candidate, Beto O'Rourke, ended up losing by 11 points to incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.

What we're watching: How much Kate Cox's case is invoked by Democratic candidates up and down the ballot during the general election campaign.

  • Cox is the Dallas woman whose fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition and who was forced to get an abortion out of state after Texas authorities fought her efforts to get permission for an emergency procedure.

The intrigue: Texas' GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have refused to weigh in on the Cox case — with Cornyn saying that he was not going to comment "on what state officials are doing."

Meanwhile: Republican candidates are likely to keep attention on the border and immigration, which remain motivating issues for GOP voters.

The bottom line: "While pro-choice Democrats have pointed to states in which voters have turned out to support abortion rights as evidence of the issue's purchase in the electorate, the opportunity for such a move in Texas is functionally non-existent," Blank and Henson conclude.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from Cornyn.

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