The national right to abortion was eliminated by the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, resulting in stricter abortion laws in over 20 states. However, the fight for abortion access continues at the state level. This year, numerous states are taking steps to either protect abortion access in their state constitutions or impose additional restrictions. This demonstrates that the battle over abortion is ongoing.
All six states that have already voted on abortion access—California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Vermont—have taken steps to safeguard abortion rights.
States trying to ensure abortion access
Abortion in Arizona is currently legal up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, albeit with certain restrictions. However, it is important to note that abortions based on race, sex, or genetic abnormalities are strictly prohibited. Advocates for abortion access are actively gathering signatures for a constitutional amendment that aims to preserve the right to an abortion until viability. In order to succeed, they must collect a total of 383,923 signatures by early July. As of mid-January, they had already gathered an impressive 250,000 signatures.
Arkansas has strict laws against abortions, allowing them only in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. However, advocates for abortion rights are currently working towards introducing a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to an abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy. This proposed amendment would remove any restrictions on abortion in cases of fetal anomaly, rape, incest, or if the woman’s health is in danger. To make this amendment a reality, organizers are aiming to collect 90,704 signatures by the July 5 deadline.
Abortion is a legal practice in Colorado, and a proposed state constitutional amendment aims to protect this right and ensure that health insurance coverage for abortions remains intact. In order for the amendment to be included on the ballot, it must gather 124,238 signatures, along with the support of 2% of the registered voters in each of the 35 Colorado state senate districts, as stated by the Colorado secretary of state’s office.
Florida previously permitted abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, in 2022, a 15-week ban was implemented, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed a more stringent six-week ban into law last year. The legality of the 15-week ban is currently being assessed by the Florida Supreme Court, which is deliberating on whether the state’s right to privacy extends to abortion. Should the court uphold the 15-week ban, the six-week ban would subsequently come into force.
A constitutional amendment has been proposed to prevent any restrictions on abortion until the fetus is considered viable, usually around 23 to 24 weeks. The organizers have already exceeded the required number of signatures, and the initiative will now be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court. Oral arguments regarding the approval of the initiative will take place on February 7. If the Court approves the ballot language, the measure will be presented to voters in November.
In November, Maryland voters will have the chance to solidify the legality of abortion by enshrining it in the state constitution. The current law, established in 1991, was put in place to protect abortion rights in the event of any restrictions imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court. This law received overwhelming support in a 1992 referendum, with 62% of voters expressing their approval.
Last March, Maryland lawmakers in the House voted 98 to 38 in favor of amending the state constitution to safeguard the right to abortion. This bill has also successfully passed through the state Senate. Now, the proposed amendment will appear on the ballot for voters in November, requiring a simple majority for it to be approved.
Abortion rights advocates are seeking to change the state constitution in Missouri, aiming to legalize abortion in the state where it is currently banned, except in cases where the woman’s health or life is at risk. In order to have the measure included on the November ballot, approximately 170,000 signatures must be collected by the May 5 deadline. The signatures must come from six out of the eight congressional districts, as stated by the Missouri secretary of state’s office.
Abortion remains legal in Montana until the fetus reaches viability. However, the efforts of abortion rights supporters to safeguard access through a constitutional amendment have been stymied by the Republican Montana attorney general, who is preventing the ballot measure from moving forward. In response, advocates for abortion rights have turned to the Montana Supreme Court, seeking its intervention in this matter.
Nebraska implemented a 12-week abortion ban in May of last year. Advocates for abortion access are now working towards incorporating abortion rights into the state constitution through a proposed ballot initiative. The initiative aims to establish the right to an abortion until viability, as well as provide legal protection for maternal health and life. In order for the constitutional amendment to proceed, supporters must gather over 120,000 signatures from registered voters. Additionally, they must obtain signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in a minimum of 38 out of the state’s 93 counties. Signatures for ballot initiatives or referendums need to be submitted by July, which is four months prior to the general election.
In Nevada, the current abortion laws allow for abortions to be performed up to 25 weeks and 6 days. However, a coalition of abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, is seeking to further protect abortion rights in the state. Last September, they filed a petition with the secretary of state’s office to propose a ballot question that would amend the state constitution to embed these protections. To bring the measure to the ballot in November, the coalition must collect 103,000 signatures from Nevadans by June 26. If the measure is approved by a simple majority, it will then need secondary passage to amend the state constitution, and abortion rights will be up for consideration on the 2026 ballot.
In New York, women are permitted to have an abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, beyond this point, abortion is only allowed if the fetus has a life-incompatible condition or if it is necessary to protect the mother’s life or health. This November, voters will have the opportunity to approve a state Equal Rights Amendment that aims to protect various rights, including abortion and LGBTQ rights, in the state constitution. The amendment will pass if it receives a simple majority of support. The amendment was initially approved by the Democratic-majority Legislature in two consecutive state legislative sessions – first in July 2022 and then again in January 2023 – making it eligible for a statewide vote.
Abortion in South Dakota is considered illegal and is classified as a Class 6 felony. Providers who perform abortions that are not life-saving for the mother can face penalties of up to two years in prison and a $4,000 fine. The current law only permits abortion when it is necessary to save the mother’s life, without any exceptions for cases of rape or incest. However, there is a movement among South Dakotans who support abortion access to amend the state constitution. They aim to allow abortions during the first trimester, which typically ends at about 12 weeks, and also permit second-trimester abortions if they are deemed necessary for the mother’s health. To achieve this, they need to collect 35,017 signatures by May 7 in order to get the measure on the ballot this fall. The amendment would require a simple majority to pass. In June of 2022, Dakotans for Health filed a petition proposing regulations for second-trimester abortions. These regulations would be linked solely to the physical health of the pregnant individual, and there would be a ban on third-trimester abortions, with exemptions for cases involving the life or health of the pregnant person.
Abortion bans on the ballot
The Iowa Legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed a six-week abortion ban in July. Currently, the ban is being reviewed by the judiciary. In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, Iowa courts reversed a previous decision that protected abortion rights. Now, those against abortion are pushing for a legislative initiative to enshrine a ban on abortion rights in the Iowa constitution. The proposed “no right to an abortion amendment” states that the state constitution does not recognize, grant, or guarantee the right to abortion or require public funding for abortion services. Before it can be added to the ballot in November, both chambers of the General Assembly must approve the measure in consecutive sessions.
Where do the presidential candidates stand on this issue?
Former president Donald Trump frequently takes pride in his contribution to the termination of the federal right to abortion. During his term, he appointed three Supreme Court justices who ultimately sided with the majority in returning the decision on abortion laws to the states. Despite his strong stance, Trump cautioned fellow Republicans to exercise caution when advocating for an abortion ban, as it may not be a winning issue for them. Additionally, he supports the inclusion of exceptions for cases involving rape, incest, and the life of the mother in any potential abortion ban.
Nikki Haley has consistently voiced her support for a nationwide ban on abortion and her opposition to abortion access. However, she acknowledges the challenges of passing such legislation due to the strict requirements in the Senate. Instead, she has pledged to seek common ground and find areas of agreement on this contentious issue.
“We have scared people into thinking that their rights will disappear,” said the Democratic candidate during her campaign trail in November. “And the Republicans have been quick to pass judgment. But both approaches are misguided. Instead of relying on fear or judgment, we should approach these issues with respect, recognizing that they are deeply personal matters.”
President Biden’s reelection campaign is placing a significant emphasis on the belief that abortion access will once again serve as a rallying point for voters in the upcoming November elections, much like it did in 2022. The president has made a firm commitment to reinstating the protections for abortion established by Roe v. Wade, should he secure another term and if the Democrats maintain control of both the House and the Senate.
Abortion poses a significant challenge in Senate races, particularly in Ohio. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown faces the task of retaining his seat as the Buckeye state increasingly leans towards conservative values.
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