Following the landmark 6-3 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June—which concluded that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion, overturned both Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and returned the authority over abortion policy to the states—voters across the country began the process of hashing out what the future of abortion access would look like in their respective states. On November 8th, voters in Michigan, California, Vermont, Kentucky, and Montana faced this decision, and in all five cases, abortion rights won the day.
The results in both California and Vermont, two deep blue states, were not surprising. Citizens in both states chose to amend their state constitutions to guarantee the right to an abortion, and in the case of the California proposal, guarantee an additional right to contraceptives. Michiganders followed suit by amending their state constitution to enshrine abortion rights. While considered a swing state, Michigan was carried by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer by almost 11 points, and the constitutional amendment passed by over 13 points.
Kentucky and Montana came as more of a shock to many in the pro-life movement. Both state legislatures are dominated by Republicans, and in 2020 former President Trump won both states, by 26 and 16 points respectively. In Kentucky, voters narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared that there is no right to an abortion in the state; the measure failed 52.3%-47.7%. Montanans rejected the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, that would have mandated that babies born alive after an unsuccessful late-term abortion must receive life-saving care. The text of the failed measure reads: “Born-alive infant protection. (1) A born-alive infant, including an infant born in the course of an abortion, must be treated as a legal person under the laws of the state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” The measure failed by four points. Partisans on the pro-life side blame sloppy language, bad messaging, and/or an overall poor performance by the Republican Party for the fate of these red-state abortion measures. Pundits on the abortion rights side credit the popularity of abortion itself for the GOP’s failure to retake the Senate and its anemic gains in the House of Representatives.
While states like Texas have all but banned abortion, it was always foreseeable that blue states would take a divergent course, codifying abortion, even late-term or partial-birth abortion, into law. But Montana’s vote against the medical protection of abortion survivors indicates that the pro-life movement still has its work cut out for it and that abortion rights advocates still have a surprisingly strong upper hand in the public mind.
Recently, Guttmacher Institute released their 2020 abortion provider census which revealed that the overall abortion rate increased by around 1% in 2020, and abortions were up in 32 of 50 states, contradicting CDC data that had suggested a slight decrease in the number of abortions. This data is pre-Dobbs, so the near elimination of abortion in states like Texas is sure to impact the numbers moving forward but, as demonstrated in Kentucky and Montana, the political makeup of a state does not necessarily indicate how voters will cast their ballots regarding this particular issue.
Regardless of who deserves the blame or credit, depending on your perspective, it is clear that Dobbs was not the end but rather the beginning of a further fight over the abortion issue, and many on the political Right may have celebrated prematurely. Pro-lifers got their win at the Supreme Court, and now must focus on education and outreach if they want to see their goals come to fruition. Abortion-rights advocates apparently just have to consolidate their surprising dominance in public opinion in many states.
Brady Leonard is a musician, political strategist, and podcaster based in Toledo, Ohio. The No Gimmicks Podcast airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 1pm EST, wherever podcasts are found. Follow him on Twitter @bradyleonard