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Where abortion laws stand after the 2022 midterms
Campaign signs oppose and support a proposed Vermont ballot measure to guarantee access to reproductive rights, including abortion on Nov. 3, 2022 in Middlesex, Vt. (AP) Campaign signs oppose and support a proposed Vermont ballot measure to guarantee access to reproductive rights, including abortion on Nov. 3, 2022 in Middlesex, Vt. (AP)

Campaign signs oppose and support a proposed Vermont ballot measure to guarantee access to reproductive rights, including abortion on Nov. 3, 2022 in Middlesex, Vt. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 9, 2022

Abortion rights supporters cheered a series of victories in abortion-related ballot measures in five states. At the same time, voters in many conservative states that have banned abortion effectively ratified those decisions by easily re-electing governors that implemented those bans.

In the run-up to Election Day, Democratic candidates nationwide focused their message on abortion rights. For weeks, polling suggested that it might have been a tactical misfire, as voters told pollsters that inflation was a bigger worry. But the abortion message turned out to be more potent in voters’ minds than forecast.

The National Election Pool exit poll found that 31% of voters cited inflation as their most important issue, though abortion was a close second at 27%. And in the crucial battleground of Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, 36% of voters cited abortion as their top issue, compared with 29% who cited inflation.

The exit poll also found that about 60% of voters felt dissatisfied or angry about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that protected abortion rights. Such respondents disproportionately told exit pollsters that they were voting Democratic. 

Such currents can be seen most clearly in the five ballot measures that addressed abortion directly.

Three states — California, Michigan and Vermont — easily passed measures to enshrine access to the procedure. With some votes still left to be counted, California voters approved their proposition by a 2-1 margin, Michigan’s measure was leading by double digits, and Vermont passed its measure by a 3-1 margin.

More surprising were the results in two red states. In Kentucky, a measure to clarify in the state Constitution that there is no right to abortion failed, with 53% voting against it. And in Montana, a measure requiring "born-alive" infants to be considered people was losing with 52% against.

The California and Vermont measures served mostly to secure an already strong abortion-rights policy in those solidly blue states. 

The Michigan measure, by contrast, came as a rebuke to efforts to enshrine a pre-Roe law that banned abortions without exceptions for rape and incest. That law, which was already on ice because of legal challenges, seems unlikely to resurface. 

The abortion ballot measure was likely the linchpin for a good performance for Michigan Democrats. Key Democratic officials won another term, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, and the Democrats took control of both chambers of the state Legislature after a long era of Republican dominance.

Kentucky’s amendment, meanwhile, was designed to keep state courts from creating Roe v. Wade-style legal protections. With the measure’s failure, anti-abortion advocates will have one less argument available in court, 

And in another blow to Kentucky’s abortion opponents, state Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, who authored the abortion amendment and the restrictive laws, lost his race for the state Supreme Court after being criticized for running as "the conservative Republican" in a nonpartisan race.

The Montana measure wasn’t directly related to a state abortion ban. But if the current rejection stands as more ballots are counted, it is another sign that voters favored abortion rights on election night. 

Abortion-rights advocates also won key contests beyond Michigan. In Wisconsin, voters re-elected Gov. Tony Evers and fellow Democrat Josh Kaul, the attorney general. Like Michigan, Wisconsin is a purple state that faced reimposition of a pre-Roe abortion ban that has no exceptions for rape and incest.

Abortion rights supporters considered Evers and Kaul their last line of defense in Wisconsin because the Legislature is strongly Republican. If Republicans had ousted Evers and Kaul, the Legislature was expected to end the state’s legal battle against the law, which would clear the way for its enactment. 

And in Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated anti-abortion Republican Doug Mastriano by double digits. That gave abortion rights advocates breathing room in a purple state that could have had Republicans controlling both the governorship and the Legislature. Democrats also made enough gains in the state House to potentially seize the majority, though they may eventually fall short.

What happens in Arizona, another purple state with a pre-Roe abortion ban on the books, remains to be seen. Races for governor and attorney general are among those that are too close to call.

It will take some time for all the reverberations of election night 2022 to play out in the battle over abortion. But solidly red states have been eager to implement abortion bans since the Supreme Court’s decision this summer.

Ten states have abortion bans in force, most of them without exceptions for rape and incest; three other states have bans in force but are still facing legal challenges. Ten more states have bans poised to take effect but implementation is waiting for court decisions.

 

Another way to look at the 2022 election’s effect on abortion policy is to look at places where voters re-elected Republicans who enacted abortion bans to office, usually by wide margins.

States that re-elected a governor who had enacted abortion restrictions include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

There may have been a pro-abortion-rights backlash in some places, but the easy re-election of governors in these 11 states suggests that there are many places in the U.S. where voters see abortion restrictions as a positive.

PolitiFact staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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Where abortion laws stand after the 2022 midterms