Abortion will be on the ballot in five U.S. states this election day, with measures to both protect and restrict abortion rights.
The state initiatives follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June overturning Roe V. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. Without federal protections of abortion rights, state laws and constitutions are crucial to protecting abortion rights and access.
Voters in Michigan (Proposal 3), Vermont (Proposal 5) and California (Proposal 1) will vote on initiatives that would amend their state constitutions to protect reproductive freedom. The Vermont and California measures would also prohibit government infringement on the ability of people to make decisions about their reproductive health care.
Voters in Kentucky (Amendment 2) will weigh in on amending the state constitution to add language stating that nothing in the constitution protects abortion rights or requires funding for abortion. Montana’s measure (LR-131) would criminalize decision-making around compassionate care for newborns with fatal conditions and allow the state to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
“Americans do not want politicians interfering with their personal health care decisions,” said Elisabeth Smith, Director, State Policy and Advocacy, at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “On election day, millions of voters will have the opportunity to directly show their support to codify their reproductive rights and to fight back against those trying to deny their reproductive freedom.”
An Equal Rights Amendment to Nevada’s state constitution will be on the ballot this election day. It would prohibit the denial of rights based on an individual’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age disability, or ancestry.
Kansans Voted Overwhelmingly to Protect Their Right to Abortion
Abortion rights were already on the ballot in one state. In August, Kansans voted overwhelmingly to protect their right to abortion, defeating a ballot initiative that would have removed the right from the state’s constitution. The Kansas Supreme Court had recognized abortion as a constitutional right under the state’s constitution in 2019, in a case brought by the Center.
Abortion Is Now Illegal in 12 States
Since the Supreme Court’s decision taking away the constitutional right to abortion, lawmakers in several states have acted to ban or severely restrict it—and abortion is currently illegal in 12 states (AL, AR, ID, KY, LA, MS, MO, OK, SD, TN, TX, WV), as noted in the Center’s “After Roe Fell: Abortion Laws by State” map. Over 70 million people, or over 21% of the total U.S. population, live in those 12 states (according to the 2020 Census).
Large swaths of the South and Midwest are now abortion deserts—where people cannot access abortion care in their communities and must travel long distances to access services or are forced to carry pregnancies against their will. Consequences of abortion bans and restrictions fall hardest on those already facing obstacles to accessing health care, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, rural communities, young people, and people living in poverty.
More states are expected to restrict or ban abortion when state legislatures convene in January. The Center and its partners continue to work to block state abortion bans and restrictions in court.
Several states protect abortion rights in either their state constitutions or by statute. Currently 21 states, plus the District of Columbia, offer such protections (AK, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, HI, KS, IL, MA, ME, MD, MN, MT, NJ, NV, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA).
State Constitutions Offer Strong Protections for Abortion Rights
While state courts and constitutions have always been important to securing legal protections for abortion rights, since the U.S. Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to abortion, they matter more than ever. State courts and constitutions can offer stronger and expanded legal grounds for protecting abortion rights and shield access to abortion in highly restrictive parts of the country.
For decades, the Center has brought cases in state courts to build strong abortion protections at the state level independent of federal law. Read the Center’s report, “State Constitutions and Abortion Rights: Building protections for reproductive autonomy,” which analyzes cases in which state high courts have recognized abortion protections under their state constitutions.
Federal Legislation is Urgently Needed to Protect Abortion Rights
Congress has the power to write our fundamental right to abortion into law—starting with the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). WHPA would protect abortion access nationwide by creating a statutory right for health care providers to provide, and a corresponding right for their patients to receive, abortion care—free from restrictions and bans.
Another federal bill, the EACH Act, would reverse the Hyde Amendment and related abortion funding restrictions, ensuring that anyone receiving care or insurance coverage from the federal government would be covered for all pregnancy related care, including abortion.