Abortion ranks among voters' top issues for the 2022 midterms.
The question for Democrats — who are in a historically unfavorable position as the party in charge of the White House and facing growing concerns about inflation and the rest of the economy — is to what degree the energy unleashed by this summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade can be harnessed at the polls, and to what extent that energy can overcome voters' economic worries.
Republicans, meanwhile, are primarily focusing on voters' concerns about the economy, inflation, and crime. In some cases, they're attempting to distance themselves from some of the most severe abortion restrictions that have taken effect since this summer's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.
Here's a look at where abortion is, in one form or another, on the ballot.
Supporters of abortion rights saw a major and largely unforeseen victory in Kansas in August when voters in the red state resoundingly rejected a ballot initiative that would have added language stating that the state constitution contains no protections for abortion rights. But that was just about six weeks after the Dobbs decision was released.
The issue is on the ballot in several more states for this midterm election, including an anti-abortion measure in Montana, and measures in California and Vermont that would explicitly protect abortion rights in those states' constitutions.
- Michigan — In what's likely the most-watched abortion-related ballot measure, voters are considering a citizen-led effort to amend Michigan's constitution to protect abortion rights. The Michigan Supreme Court allowed the initiative process to move forward after Republicans led an effort to block the amendment from going before voters.
- Kentucky — Hoping to replicate their victory in Kansas, abortion rights supporters in Kentucky have hired Rachel Sweet, who led the successful opposition to that amendment in Kansas, to run their campaign against a similar ballot measure in Kentucky.
Control of state governments
The overturning of Roe sent the question of abortion back to the states – making state legislators and governors extremely important in determining the laws and policies that regulate the procedure.
Governor's races with mixed party control will be key, particularly in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kansas – where Democratic governors have fought efforts to impose restrictive abortion laws.
- In Wisconsin, where providers have stopped performing abortions while a pre-Roe ban is being litigated, incumbent Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican Tim Michels. Michels recently promised he would "never arrest a doctor" despite his support for abortion bans with limited exceptions.
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led a successful legal fight to block that state's pre-Roe ban, and the long-term future of abortion rights will hinge largely on the outcome of both the state's ballot initiative and Whitmer's race against Republican Tudor Dixon, who opposes abortion rights.
- In North Carolina, control of the state government is divided between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and a Republican-controlled legislature. While Cooper is not facing re-election this year, Democrats fear Republicans could gain a supermajority in the state legislature and with it, the ability to pass abortion bans without the governor's signature. Laphonza Butler, president of Emily's List, which works to elect female candidates who support abortion rights, said a Republican supermajority in North Carolina would have implications for people in the "entire southeast region of the country," where abortion is already significantly restricted in many states. In 2021, Cooper vetoed legislation that would have prohibited abortions based on a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.
- Across the country, advocates also are targeting races that often operate relatively below the radar, but could have significant implications for the regulation of abortion. State judicial races are getting attention in Ohio and Kansas, for example, as abortion rights advocates increasingly appeal to state constitutions in legal challenges to abortion bans. In some states, advocacy groups also have been focusing on races for attorneys general, and even local prosecutors - positions that hold the authority to decide whether and how to enforce abortion restrictions.
Control of Congress
Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate would like to see national legislation on the issue.
Abortion rights supporters have been pushing for passage of the Women's Health Protection Act, designed to codify Roe's protections in federal law. That legislation passed the House last year in a largely symbolic vote but has lacked the votes to overcome the Senate filibuster.
Anti-abortion groups are supporting legislation proposed by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to ban the procedure nationwide at 15 weeks.
Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at SBA Pro-Life America, said without a nationwide abortion ban, people will continue to travel from states with restrictions to those with more liberal abortion laws.
For example, "California would be an abortion destination – it would be like abortion tourism," Musgrave said.
Musgrave said her group is working to flip the House and Senate into Republican hands.
President Biden has promised he would veto any such anti-abortion legislation that might pass while he's in office, but NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju said that would be too close for comfort.
"We certainly don't want to let it get that far. That's a bad precedent," Timmaraju said. "We're absolutely not going to let it get to that point; that's our goal."
Abortion v. inflation?
Butler, of Emily's List, said she is hopeful abortion rights will be top of mind for voters in what many political observers are suggesting may be a difficult midterm for Democrats.
"Voters are whole people; they carry their whole selves into the ballot box," Butler said. "And what we have experienced as a nation is that our economy ebbs and flows – but once our fundamental freedoms are taken away, we don't know if we're ever going to be able to get that back."
To that end, a coalition of national abortion rights groups is spending $150 million toward this campaign season, along with hundreds of millions more in abortion-focused ads from Democratic candidates themselves.
Meanwhile, SBA Pro-Life America's Musgrave says the group's Women Speak Out Pac has contacted some 8 million voters nationwide on behalf of anti-abortion rights candidates and related ballot measures.