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Editorial: Abortion rights triumphed from coast to coast

Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on June 24, 2022
Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on June 24, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
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When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June, leaving the right to control one’s own body and decision to be a parent to the whims of state lawmakers, it fell to advocates and voters to fight to protect reproductive rights. A record six measures concerning abortion were placed on state ballots this year across the country.

By Tuesday night, voters made their wishes clear — they want to maintain their access to abortion. Of the five measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, four have won by resounding margins and a fifth has a healthy lead.

In California, Proposition 1, a ballot measure enshrining the right to abortion, was approved by voters. A similar ballot measure passed in Vermont. In both states, lawmakers and governors are defenders of reproductive rights and both legislatures put those amendments on their state ballots.

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In Michigan, a closely watched effort to pass a similar constitutional amendment was victorious.

In record numbers, Kansas voters resoundingly chose to keep their abortion rights safe. That should be the message to other voters and lawmakers.

Aug. 3, 2022

Even more breathtaking was the rejection of a state constitutional amendment in Kentucky, a solidly red state, that said there is no right to abortion in the Kentucky Constitution. That ballot measure was called Wednesday morning with 90% of the ballots counted and 52.5% of the voters against it.

“It may be a new day in the way this issue is being thought about,” said Nancy Northup, the chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, citing the victory of abortion rights in liberal, moderate and conservative states alike. “I hope this will be seen as a nonpartisan issue that is about rights and health.”

Kansans led the way on supporting abortion rights by overwhelmingly voting down a ballot measure in August that would have amended the state constitution to remove the right to abortion. The passage of that measure means the Kansas Legislature cannot outlaw abortion.

But in Kentucky, abortion is already banned by state law with the only exception being for the life of the pregnant person or to protect the individual from a disabling injury. What happens when Kentucky voters clearly tell their legislators they want to protect reproductive rights? Legislators — especially after the Supreme Court abolished the national right to an abortion — have a responsibility to listen and respect the message delivered by the rejection of the constitutional amendment.

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Not that anyone is waiting for lawmakers to do the right thing.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood had already sued to stop the full ban and a six-week ban — both of which went into effect after Roe was overturned — on the grounds that the Kentucky Constitution protects the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. Both bans were blocked by a Kentucky state court but then allowed to go into effect by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood appealed that decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case next week. The defeat of the ballot measure, which was intended to obliterate the right to abortion in the Kentucky Constitution, could have a positive impact on the court and lead it to permanently block the abortion bans.

In Michigan, abortion rights is front and center on the ballot. An initiative in Michigan would amend the state constitution to guarantee a right to abortion.

Oct. 24, 2022

Even in Montana, an unnecessary ballot measure requiring medical treatment for infants born alive after induced labor, caesarean section or attempted abortion appears to be defeated. With 82% of the vote counted, 52.4% of the voters rejected the measure. Under federal law, healthcare providers already care for infants in these situations, though the specific course of treatment is generally left to the doctors and parents. As it should be.

The Supreme Court said in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case overturning Roe, that decisions about reproductive rights should be left to the people and their lawmakers. It’s ludicrous that politicians should be allowed to decide how much or how little individuals can control their bodies. But having been dealt that grim reality, advocates and voters have shown they will use the ballot box to win back what should never have been lost.

Polls continually indicate that a majority of Americans support the right to abortion and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish that right. And the results so far on all the abortion-related measures on the Nov. 8 ballot show that voters — in states from the most liberal to the most conservative — want their reproductive rights upheld. That is a powerful and profound statement that must not be ignored.

Updates

3:36 p.m. Nov. 9, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect new election results in Michigan indicating that Republicans have lost control of the state Legislature.

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