Healthy Body

If the Midterm Elections Showed Us Anything, It’s That Americans Want the Right to Legal (and Safe) Abortions

Photo: Getty Images/ Michael M. Santiago
It’s no secret that abortion rights and reproductive justice were on the line in the 2022 midterm elections. With Roe v. Wade no longer in place, a person's ability to get a legal abortion depends on the laws in their state as well as whatever may be passed on the federal level—which means that whoever represents you in the state and federal governments (like your governor, congressional representative, and senator) has more power than ever to shape reproductive health policy. (Terrible, we know.)

Though final results on which party has the majority over the House and Senate are still pending, there is good news about the American people’s stance on abortion access. There were five states where abortion protection or restriction measures were literally on the ballot—California, Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan, and Montana—and the constituents of each of these states showed up to protect abortion with flying colors.

“Five states voted to protect abortion on Tuesday; this fits with the statistic that we all know of this country—that the majority believes that abortion is a personal decision best left to the pregnant person,” says Sophia Yen, MD, MPD, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health. Indeed, May 2022 polling from Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans did not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned, and 53 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances (a record high).

A recap: Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont overwhelmingly chose to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in their respective state constitutions. (In California, the ballot measure passed with 65.1 percent of the vote; in Michigan, 56.7 percent of voters voted yes on their ballot measure.) This helps makes the protections once taken for granted by the Roe v. Wade ruling a core part of state law, preventing potential future measures to overturn abortion rights.

Proposal 3, Michigan's ballot measure supporting abortion rights, was particularly crucial since its passage overrode a 1931 abortion ban that was technically still on the books once Roe v. Wade was overturned in June. Political analysts also believe that passion over abortion rights drove record turnout in Michigan and helped re-elect Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (a Democrat) and help flip the entire state legislature blue—something that hadn't happened in decades.

Even in more decidedly "red" states, voters decided to protect reproductive rights. Kentuckians rejected a proposal that would have explicitly denied the right to abortion in the state's constitution. Montana voters also struck down a ballot proposal which would have required doctors to perform life-saving care on any fetus or newborn, even if they were born premature or fatally ill.

Political analysts also speculate that voter concerns about abortion rights was a key aspect in preventing the predicted "Red Wave" (aka a clear Republican sweep of state and national elections). This was particularly true for young voters aged 18-29, who turned out in record numbers to overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates across the country and for whom abortion rights, along with climate change, was a key issue.

It's critical to note that the fight for abortion rights in this country is far from over. Anti-abortion candidates still won key races, such as the governor's seat in both Texas and Georgia, notes Dr. Yen. And if Republicans ultimately take control of Congress, they plan to introduce a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks. But this election is an important reminder of the clear disconnect between elected officials and the public on reproductive rights. “Elected leaders need to take note that the overwhelming majority of this country wants abortion to be legal and available, " Dr. Yen says.

Still, for those starved for hope in the fight for reproductive justice, Tuesday's results were a helpful, albeit not heaping, serving.

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