Midterm Voters Defend Right to Abortion in Five Ballot Measures Across the U.S.

From California to Kentucky, voters used ballot initiatives to show support for abortion rights and equal rights.

Last updated on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 8:10 a.m. PT.

A ‘Restore Roe‘ rally in Lansing, Mich., on Sept. 7, 2022. More than 730,000 residents in Michigan signed a petition to get an amendment to enshrine reproductive rights into the Michigan’s state constitution. The amendment passed. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP via Getty Images)

This election season saw six ballot measures on abortion across the U.S.—and in all of them, the pro-abortion rights position passed decisively.

  • In California, Proposition 1 passed, which guarantees the constitutional right to reproductive freedom “in their most intimate decisions,” including the right to abortion and contraceptives.

  • In Kentucky, Constitutional Amendment 2 failed, which would have amended the state constitution to say there is no right to abortion, or any requirement to fund abortion.

  • Michigan‘s Proposal 3 passed, which will create a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, including decisions “about all matters relating to pregnancy,” including abortion and contraception.

  • In Montana, voters rejected Legislative Referendum 131, which would have subjected healthcare providers who do not make every effort to save the life of an infant “born during an attempted abortion,” to civil penalties and up to 20 years of jail time.

  • In Vermont, Proposal 5 passed, which creates a constitutional right to personal reproductive autonomy.

  • In Kansas‘ primary elections in August, 59 percent of voters cast ballots against a proposed amendment explicitly stating that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion, and that the legislature has the authority to restrict abortion.

The high margin of passage or failure, respectively, for each ballot measure—even in conservative states—shows how central the issue of abortion access is to women voters, especially young women. “Women voters let the country know that the vote to protect abortion access earlier this year in Kansas was not a fluke,” said Amanda Brown Lierman, executive director of Supermajority.

Leah Martin, a volunteer with Protect Kentucky Access, carries brochures with information on Amendment 2 in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 1, 2022. A lifelong Kentucky resident, Martin ended up in the emergency room because she wasn’t allowed to have an abortion. Because of this “horrible” experience, she went door-to-door against a state ballot initiative that would cement Kentucky’s near total ban on abortions. (Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images)

Additionally, in Nevada, midterm voters were tasked to decide whether to adopt an Equal Rights Amendment in their state constitution. Its fate is looking good, though as of Thursday morning, AP hadn’t officially called the ballot measure’s passage.

In addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and race, Nevada’s ERA would be the first time that an equal rights amendment explicitly protects people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In a post-Roe era, state-level and federal equal rights protections take on new urgency as avenues for shoring up women’s rights, especially reproductive rights.

Since Dobbs v. Jackson was decided by the Supreme Court in June, which overturned the constitutional right to abortion, voters—young women in particular—have reported feeling angry and worried about state-level abortion bans, according to Ms. magazine and Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) polling by Lake Research Partners released in October. The poll also showed 74 percent of young women support the ERA, with 72 percent saying it is “personally” important to them now that various states are banning abortion.

“Despite constant reports in the media on inflation and rising prices as the top issues in this election, abortion and women’s rights were the most important for young women as they headed to the ballot box,” said Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms.

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U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.