Before Election Day, all indications suggested anti-abortion Republicans would trounce Democrats who supported abortion access, but the American people had other ideas. The midterm election results show that voters – especially women – care deeply about their reproductive rights.
On Tuesday, Kentucky voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution to explicitly say it does not protect a right to abortion, NBC News projects. That result comes months after Kansas – another deeply conservative state – also voted down a similar ballot initiative following the fall of Roe v. Wade in June.
In a recent NBC News poll asking voters which issues mattered most when they cast their ballots, nearly a third of voters nationwide said inflation, and just over a quarter (27 percent) cited abortion. And when asked to vote solely on keeping abortion legal, voters consistently chose to preserve access.
But whether they realized it or not, Americans who voted for abortion rights also voted for an investment in better health and welfare policies for disaffected populations. One of the greatest flaws in the “pro-life” stance is the irrefutable fact that the states with the most aggressive anti-abortion laws have the worst health outcomes for women and children. The very politicians advocating for the sanctity of human life have consistently voted against measures that would shore up healthcare services and opportunities for women and children.
So, as the dust clears about who will gain control of Congress, what do the midterm results mean for abortion access?
Vermont, California, and Michigan: Voters endorsed ballot initiatives enshrining state constitutional protection for abortion.
Kentucky: NBC News projected that more than half of Kentuckians refused to endorse a change to their constitution that would have stripped abortion protection. If it had been successful, the measure would have made it almost impossible to legally challenge anti-abortion legislation in the state.
The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week on challenges to the abortion restrictions.
Montana: Residents voted down the state’s “Born Alive” measure, which would criminalize health care providers if they did not take “reasonable actions” to save an infant born alive, including after an attempted abortion.
Voters around the country rallied behind candidates pledging to protect abortion access, where at least seven pro-choice Democrats held onto or won their governorships.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul beat back a stiff challenge from anti-abortion candidate Lee Zeldin; Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro beat Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania; Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers won his re-election bid while his administration challenges a pre-Roe ban on the procedure; Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has maintained a consistent veto against abortion restrictions; Maine Gov. Janet Mills beat back a challenge from former Republican governor Paul LePage; Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz won his re-election bid, as did Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose campaign explicitly focused on protecting abortion rights.
While control of Congress is still too close to call, Republicans in both chambers have introduced abortion restrictions that will come to a vote if they win the majority.
But on Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman – a steadfast supporter of reproductive rights – defeated Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s critical Senate race.
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet won over Republican Joe O’Dea in that Senate race and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan bested Donald Bolduc in New Hampshire, holding onto her Senate seat.
Hillary Scholten, the Democratic candidate in western Michigan, defeated Trump-backed candidate John Gibbs, to name just a few of the races illuminating voter commitment to protecting abortion access.
Where abortion rights lost, ‘Pro-life’ contradictions emerged
When we look at the future of comprehensive reproductive and family healthcare, let’s consider the states that are responsible for overturning Roe v. Wade.
“Pro-life” lawmakers in Mississippi and Alabama have refused to expand Medicaid to extend postpartum care, despite their states’ aberrant ratings for maternal child health. And while “pro-life” politics are awash with rhetoric around saving the lives of infants and children, there is overwhelming evidence of dysfunction, neglect and abuse in the foster care systems of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Courts in these states have found that the state programs discriminate against youth with disabilities, provide unstable, unsafe care, and are responsible for extreme maltreatment rates. Indeed, for over a decade, Mississippi has ignored a court mandate to address the treatment of children in the foster care system. “Pro-life” advocates simply ignore these inconvenient facts.
This outsized contradiction was on full display in the midterm elections.
Oklahoma: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the victor in that state’s gubernatorial race, has supported criminalizing abortion but has failed to address some of the worst maternal and child health outcomes in the nation. When confronted with data about Oklahoma’s dismal maternal and child health outcomes, Stitt falsely claimed that the federal government had skewed a report’s findings to make him look bad.
Meanwhile, Gov. Stitt declared that he wants Oklahoma to become “the most pro-life state in the nation.” But what of the lives he fails to protect? It is no wonder those who bear the brunt of Stitt’s neglect of healthcare reform in the state are predominantly women, children and indigenous groups.
Georgia: Democratic and pro-choice Sen. Raphael Warnock will likely face a run-off in his Senate race against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. But gubernatorial candidate Democrat Stacey Abrams – who criticized her opponent’s support for a bill that outlaws abortions after six weeks of pregnancy – lost to Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.
Gov. Kemp’s neglect of the health and welfare of women is egregious, especially as the state has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country. He has sought to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website in Georgia, even though the ACA has overwhelmingly increased health coverage for women, improving health outcomes for their children as well.
Kemp has blasted Medicaid expansion and has advocated for strict work requirements, which disproportionately threaten coverage for Georgia women who are caretakers at home, are disabled, or are in school and unable to meet the state standards for receiving coverage. And in May, Kemp ended the state’s supplemental food assistance program (P-SNAP), disproportionately affecting Black and Brown mothers and their families struggling to bounce back from the pandemic.
Ohio: In the state where Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, voters there re-elected Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and voted in GOP candidate J.D. Vance, both staunchly against abortion access.
Arizona: As votes continue to be counted In Arizona, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has repeatedly expressed her support for enforcing the state’s near-total abortion ban. “My personal belief is that all life matters,” she said during a Republican gubernatorial debate. “All life counts, and all life is precious.”
At the same time, Lake has doubled down on her dream of repealing the ACA, which extended healthcare coverage to more than 300,000 people in Arizona and slashed the rate of uninsured there.
We have seen that when asked to vote on protecting access to abortion, the American people consistently vote “yes” on a woman’s right to control her own body. Even in traditionally red Kentucky, the “No Right to Abortion Constitution Amendment” just failed. The message to voters going forward is loud and clear: look beyond the rhetoric and question each and every candidate’s true commitment to life.