When analyzing Tuesday’s election results, one point becomes glaringly apparent: Abortion. Wins.
Abortion won (big) in Ohio.
Abortion won in Virginia, where Democratic lawmakers pledged to voters to keep Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s anti-abortion and anti-education policies at bay—and voters delivered.
Abortion helped keep Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) in office, who has made his pro-abortion-rights position clear.
Below, we break down the results from the elections we were watching—plus a few other notable ones.
Ohioans voted in support of putting protections for reproductive health decisions in the state constitution, including abortion. The passage of Issue 1 means that a six-week abortion ban tied up in the courts will not be able to take effect again.
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPRR) started drafting the amendment language in the middle of 2022—right after Roe fell and a six-week abortion ban went into effect in the state. It all began with a letter that Dr. Lauren Beene, one of the organization’s co-founders, wrote to her state representatives.
“I came to work on the Monday after the Dobbs decision and basically just had this terrible morning where I had a couple conversations with patients that made me realize that we had really entered like a medical disaster in our state,” said Beene, who practices as a pediatrician in the Cleveland area. She shared the letter she wrote with a Facebook group for local women physicians, and within four days, 1,000 people had signed it.
Those signatories soon became the first members of OPRR. They began meeting with state representatives—who, after the Dobbs opinion leaked, proposed a state constitutional amendment that would protect reproductive freedom. Legislator-initiated constitutional amendments in Ohio require approval from over 60 percent of the state’s General Assembly. With a Republican-dominated House and Senate, the amendment stalled.
So OPRR and other pro-choice advocates turned their focus to a citizen-initiated ballot measure; they drafted language, modeled off of the reproductive freedom referendum in Michigan, and formed Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.
The coalition’s efforts led to a major win for Issue 1, capturing almost 57 percent of the vote (as of Wednesday morning).
“The majority of Ohioans, just like the majority of people all over the country, came out to vote in support of access to reproductive health care,” said Beene, “Our opposition, their tactics didn’t work. They tried to confuse voters, they spread lies, but the people of Ohio clearly weren’t fooled.”
Beene sees this victory as one of direct democracy. “Ohio’s government—the government officials that have been opposing us and using, really abusing, their power to oppose this issue—I really see them as not representing what is the majority will of the people. And the reason that we had to do the ballot initiative is because our Ohio state legislature is so gerrymandered, and it doesn’t accurately represent the will and the voice of the people.”
The will and the voice of the people were heard over Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s voter purges in September, Attorney General Dave Yost’s deceptive analysis of the amendment in October, and all of the advertisements—some of which featured Governor Mike DeWine—about the amendment’s effect.
“I think that like the people, we the people, have power—that women definitely have power, and that our voices can make a huge difference when we come out and vote and we advocate for something that is so important like this together,” Beene said. She quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead: “You should never doubt the power of a small group of concerned citizens to change the world.”
Ohio is the seventh U.S. state to task voters to weigh in on an abortion-related ballot measure since the fall of Roe. The 2022 election season saw six additional ballot measures on abortion across the U.S.—and in all of them, the pro-abortion rights position won 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.
Democrats gained control of both houses of the Virginia state legislature. Even though abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot in Virginia (unlike in Ohio), the issue was front and center in the campaign. With total control of the state legislature, Democrats in Virginia will be able to stave off much of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s agenda—which includes an abortion ban and reversing the state’s 2020 vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
A Republican trifecta in Virginia would have “[undone] all the amazing progress Democrats have made,” said newly elected state Sen. Jennifer Caroll Foy—work that included expanding Medicaid, repealing the death penalty (the first state in the South to do so), passing common-sense gun legislation, authorizing a teacher pay increase and making Virginia the 38th and final state needed to enshrine the ERA in the U.S. Constitution.
In Virginia, abortion is currently legal through the second trimester, or 26 weeks, with some rare exceptions—making it the only Southern state without an abortion ban since the fall of Roe.
As Jessica Valenti put it in her “Abortion Every Day” newsletter: “It was just over a week ago that Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that Virginia is ‘the clearest bellwether going into 2024.’ For the first time, I hope Miss Marjorie is right.”
The state also elected Danica Roem, who will be the state’s first transgender state senator and only the second in the country. (The first was Delaware’s Sarah McBride.) “The voters have shown they want a leader who will prioritize fixing roads, feeding kids and protecting our land, instead of stigmatizing trans kids or taking away your civil rights,” Roem said in a statement shared on social media Tuesday.
Democrat Daniel McCaffery, who supports abortion rights, defeated Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio, who is anti-abortion, for a seat on the state’s supreme court. The seat was previously held by Max Baer, a Democratic justice who died last year. The court’s current makeup now leans Democrat 5-2.
The court will rule on abortion-related cases this term, including a challenge to a state law that restricts the use of public funds to help women get abortions.
Abortion is currently legal in Pennsylvania. The state bans abortion after 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy, and has some other restrictions on abortion access.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s capital, made history this election season too, electing the city’s first woman mayor, Cherelle Parker—a Democrat and former English teacher, state legislator and city council member.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was reelected in this deep-red state that Donald Trump carried twice. He defeated Republican challenger Daniel Cameron, who succeeded him as state attorney general.
As AG, Cameron used his position to push an anti-abortion agenda, signing on to an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to pull the FDA’s mifepristone approval and joining other Republican state AGs in opposing an HHS rule to protect reproductive healthcare privacy. He also supports Kentucky’s total ban on abortion without exceptions.
Beshear has called the complete ban on abortion in Kentucky “extremist” for not allowing exceptions in cases of rape and incest. And a few months before the fall of Roe, he vetoed a proposal banning abortions after 15 weeks.
Hadley’s story is important.— Andy Beshear (@AndyBeshearKY) September 20, 2023
Under Kentucky’s current law—which Daniel Cameron supports and defended to the Supreme Court—women and girls like her would have no options. pic.twitter.com/U89QieNgr2
Cameron also played a large role in the investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor. In 2020, Cameron’s office concluded the use of force by the Louisville Metro Police Department officers that led to Taylor’s death was “justified” under Kentucky law.
During his campaign, Cameron emphasized his opposition to transgender rights and gender-affirming care. Echoing far-right talking points, Cameron tried to tie transgender rights to child endangerment. Beshear, on the other hand, vetoed bills passed by the state legislature during his first term that banned gender-affirming care for minors and transgender girls’ participation in sports.
In the state’s race for governor, Democratic challenger Brandon Presley did not unseat Republican incumbent Tate Reeves. Both men are anti-abortion.
Could a candidate who supports abortion rights win statewide in Mississippi? In the past, Mississippians have shown up at the ballot box when abortion is directly on the ballot—like in 2011, when voters handily defeated an anti-abortion ballot measure that would have outlawed all abortions and many forms of contraception by adding a “personhood amendment” to the state constitution, which would define a fertilized egg as a legal person.
The race for Houston mayor was between two long-standing Texas Democrats: state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Neither Lee nor Whitmire racked up enough votes to win Tuesday’s election outright; they will face off again in a Dec. 9 runoff election.
If elected, Jackson Lee would be Houston’s first Black woman mayor.
The 2024 Elections Will Be Another Abortion and Women’s Rights Faceoff
Abortion will no doubt be a central issue again in the 2024 elections. In particular, candidates talking about abortion and the ERA together is a powerful combination to mobilize Democrats and Independents (especially Independent women), younger women, voters who support abortion rights, college-educated women, Latinas and Black voters, and voters ages 30-39, according to a recent national poll by Lake Research Partners for Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The same poll found that almost three-quarters (74 percent) of all voters—including half of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents—support a person’s right to make their own reproductive decisions without government interference, including about abortion, contraception and continuing a pregnancy.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade has lit a fire under voters, and continues to be a powerful turnout issue,” said Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine.
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.