Where abortion will be on the ballot in 2024


The abortion rights issue has been a political lifesaver for Democrats this year. Whether it will be so again in 2024 will depend in part on efforts to get the issue of reproductive rights on the ballot — not just through candidates’ positions, but literally.

The issue helped stave off a red wave by motivating both grassroots and undecided voters. Restrictive abortion laws bear no relation to public opinion, as was resoundingly evident when voters in Vermont, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Kansas were polled on the issue six out of six times. Now abortion activists are asking which other states are ripe for initiatives to protect reproductive rights.

The stakes for Democrats are even higher than they were this year. In 2024, they will play defense not only with the White House, but also with 23 Senate seats (including two independents). Republicans, meanwhile, have just 10 Senate seats to defend, most of them in solid red states.

In the fight for abortion rights, keep an eye on two states in particular — Missouri and Ohio — where efforts are more advanced. The questions are whether and how reproductive rights groups are moving forward with voting initiatives and what kind of resistance they face from their pro-life peers.

Depending on the federal state, there are different ways in which measures can be included on the ballot paper. Legislators can create ballot initiatives that either limit or improve abortion rights. Lawmakers in New Jersey, for example, are currently considering a ballot measure for next year to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Another option is for citizens to petition to get action on the ballot. This is an option in 22 states plus the District of Columbia; Of these, only in 17 can an electoral measure change the state’s constitution. That’s exactly what happened in the purple state of Michigan this year when voters enshrined abortion rights as part of the state’s constitution, re-elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Democrats took control of the state legislature for the first time since 1984.

The stakes are high in Ohio for three-year Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who is up for re-election in 2024. The state is solidly red, but nearly 60% of registered voters would support codifying abortion rights into the state’s constitution. Locally, access to abortion is mired in litigation.

After the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade in June, the state legislature enacted a law banning abortion after six weeks. In October, a state court blocked that ban. This judgment will be appealed. And after the November election, says Jessie Hill, a Case Western University professor who campaigned against the law, the Ohio Supreme Court has a majority against abortion.

If the court reverses the ban, Hill says, “the only answer would be a ballot initiative.” A complicating factor, she notes, is that the Republican Ohio Secretary of State has proposed a bill that would make it harder for citizens’ initiatives to vote to participate.

In the red states, Hill says the data suggests it’s easier to get people to vote against an abortion ban than it is to get them to vote for an abortion law change. That was the case in Kentucky and Kansas, where voters rejected abortion bans. What matters is how an amendment is worded: whether to go far and propose blanket protections for abortion, or use narrower wording, for example to protect abortion only in the first trimester, in order to appeal to more people.

Abortion advocates and opponents also have their sights set on Missouri, which has a complete ban on abortion. In two years there will be races for governor and secretary of state. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a Trump ally who won 51.4% in 2018, is also up for re-election.

The state has a history of ballot initiatives. This year, 53% of voters supported a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. In 2018, 62% agreed to a minimum wage increase. In 2020, they approved the expansion of Medicaid. It’s clear why Republicans, who hold a majority in the state legislature, are making efforts to make the unsolicited application process more onerous.

Abortion rights activists began looking into state election initiatives ahead of the November midterm elections. They conduct multi-state polls and search available voter data in Kansas, Michigan and Kentucky. They also work with groups like the Fairness Project, a progressive organization that helps develop and organize voting efforts to determine what’s feasible, fundraising and designing language.

Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, acknowledges that electoral measures in favor of Democratic candidates in 2024 could have “trailing effects”. But she also makes it clear that the priority is protecting abortion rights: “Our view is that we don’t let the tail wag the dog,” she says.

true enough However, if coattails exist, they can and should be pursued by Democrats.

More from the Bloomberg Opinion:

• The pro-life movement needs to be more realistic: Ramesh Ponnuru

• Voters welcome an abortion compromise. Will the parties?: Sarah Green Carmichael

• If Lauren Boebert loses, abortion will be the number one reason: Julianna Goldman

This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Julianna Goldman is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and was a former Washington correspondent for CBS News and White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television.

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