DETROIT, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Voters across the country signaled their support for abortion rights on Tuesday, with three states approving ballot measures to protect abortion in their constitutions and voters in deeply conservative Kentucky rejecting an anti-abortion measure.
In the battleground state of Michigan, voters passed a constitutional amendment that enshrines the right to an abortion by nearly 55%, according to Edison Research. Voters in California and Vermont also approved adding abortion protections to their state constitutions by wide margins.
Meantime, 51% of voters in Kentucky rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared there was no right to abortion, just as Kansas voters had done with a similar amendment in August.
The abortion rights victories, and other Democratic wins in races that emphasized abortion across the country, seemed to suggest that voters of all political stripes are eager to protect abortion access at the state level after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted federal protections in June.
The outcomes of ballot questions, such as Michigan's Proposal 3, will likely set the stage for future state campaigns to proactively reinstate abortion rights.
"Proposal 3's passage marks an historic victory for abortion access in our state and in our country – and Michigan has paved the way for future efforts to restore the rights and protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide," said Darci McConnell, a spokesperson for the campaign supporting the amendment.
In Michigan, a 1931 law banning abortion is still on the books and has prompted legal disputes over whether it could be enforced. The passage of the amendment now renders the law unconstitutional.
Kentucky was the first state to put abortion rights to a ballot test while enforcing a near-total ban, with exceptions only in rare medical emergencies. The vote has created a pathway for abortion access to be restored through litigation and services to resume at the state's two clinics.
The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear challenges to the abortion restrictions in place next Tuesday.
"The defeat of Amendment 2 means that we can go on to fight for the rights, freedom and equality of everyone in the state," the co-owners of EMW Women's Surgical Center, a Kentucky abortion clinic, said in a statement.
ABORTION ON FUTURE BALLOTS
Even before the cascade of ballot wins this week, abortion rights groups in more than a dozen states were gearing up for campaigns to push proactive measures or reject anti-abortion measures in upcoming elections, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a national organization that supports progressive ballot initiatives.
Ohio and Colorado are among the states where reproductive rights advocates have said they are pursuing constitutional amendment ballot measures for 2024 to protect abortion rights.
Ballot referendums are a particularly useful tool in states where a gap exists between what voters want and what their state legislatures are doing, said Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, an organization that worked with the abortion rights ballot campaigns in Vermont and Michigan.
They are costly and time-consuming, however. Michigan's abortion rights coalition spent more than $30 million on their winning campaign this year.
In some states, abortion rights might be more easily secured through legislation, litigation or campaigns to flip legislative seats, ballot measure experts said.
"They shouldn’t be the first tool that you reach for," Hall said. "That said, in many places around this country, it is the only tool in the toolbox left."
Anti-abortion advocates also are looking toward ballot measures as a mechanism to firm up state abortion restrictions.
In Iowa and Pennsylvania, the Republican-led state legislatures have given first approval to constitutional amendments that would declare there is no state right to an abortion. Both states require the legislature to approve such measures in two consecutive legislative sessions to qualify them for the general election ballot.
Fred Wszolek, a Michigan political strategist who worked for the state's anti-abortion ballot campaign, said he hoped to be involved in other ballot campaigns to restrict abortion.
"This isn’t going away," Wszolek said. "The point of overturning Roe v. Wade was for us to have 50 separate fights, and we’re going to."
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