Abortion rights keep winning on the ballot in conservative states — Florida and Arizona could be next

Adam Cairns | The Columbus Dispatch | AP
  • Ohio is the latest in a string of conservative states to reject GOP-backed campaigns to make constitutional changes targeting abortion rights.
  • Kansas and Kentucky voted down anti-abortion constitutional amendments last year.
  • Abortion could prove crucial to driving turnout for Democrats in the 2024 presidential election.
  • Activists in Arizona, a key swing state, are trying to put abortion rights on the ballot during the 2024 presidential election.

For the third time in a year, voters in a conservative state have shot down an attempt by Republicans to make constitutional changes that target abortion.

Ohioans on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an amendment, known as Issue 1, to raise the threshold for constitutional changes in the state from a simple majority to 60% of ballots cast.

Although Ohioans did not directly vote on abortion, the failure of Issue 1 means an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution is more likely to pass when voters head to the polls again in November.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the people of Ohio had rejected Issue 1 by a 14-point margin. Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden in Ohio by 8 points in the 2020 presidential election.

The significant turnout for a special election in the dead of summer suggests abortion remains a motivating factor for voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, a troubling sign for Republicans.

Nearly 40% of registered voters in Ohio cast ballots in Tuesday's election, according to preliminary results from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.

President Joe Biden's reelection manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez told NBC News, "It speaks volumes that Ohioans showed up in an off year."

And it is not just Ohio. Republican-dominated state legislatures have repeatedly put the question of abortion directly before voters in the wake of the conservative Supreme Court's June 2022 decision to abolish federal constitutional protections for the procedure.

Kansas was the first unfavorable state result for anti-abortion activists. Less than two months after the fall of Roe, voters in the state rejected an amendment that would have stripped state constitutional protections for abortion by an 18-point margin.

And the following November, voters in deeply conservative Kentucky narrowly rejected a state constitutional amendment that said there is no right to an abortion in the state.

Abortion helped Democrats pare their losses in the House and maintain control of the Senate in last year's midterm elections, which are often a washout for the party in power. And the issue will likely prove vital to turning out Democrats and independents in key swing states in the 2024 presidential election.

Biden weighed in on the results in Ohio on Tuesday night, attacking Issue 1 as "a blatant attempt to weaken voters' voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions."

Ohio's rejection of the Republican-backed ballot measure also comes as welcome news for Sherrod Brown, the senior Democratic senator who is expected to face a tough reelection fight next year in a state that has been trending heavily Republican.

Brown's political fate in 2024 could determine whether Democrats maintain their razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate. He hailed the failure of Issue 1, saying Ohio voters rejected a "power grab" by special interests and the rich and powerful.

A recent poll from USA Today and Suffolk University found 58% of Ohioans support a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in their state.

Arizona, Florida referendums

As the 2024 presidential election nears, the fight over abortion access could boost Democratic turnout in Arizona, one of the crucial swing states that helped propel Biden to the White House.

Abortion rights activists in the state filed a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would protect access to the procedure. The political action committee behind the ballot initiative, Arizona for Abortion Access, needs to collect more than 380,000 signatures for the amendment to go before voters during the 2024 general election.

In Florida, abortion rights activists are already collecting signatures to hold a referendum in 2024 on a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the state from restricting abortion access.

The political action committee Floridians Protecting Freedom launched the campaign in May after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading Republican presidential candidate, signed a six-week abortion ban into law.

The abortion rights coalition has collected nearly half a million signatures so far, with more than 890,000 needed for the constitutional amendment to go before voters.

Lauren Brenzel, campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, hailed the result in Ohio's special election Tuesday as a harbinger of what is to come in Florida in 2024.

"Since the US Supreme Court's Dobbs decision last year, abortion access has prevailed every single time voters have had the chance to weigh in," Brenzel said in a statement.

"The defeat of Ohio's Measure 1 is the latest in a growing string of victories across the country that bodes well for the success of our campaign here in Florida," she said.

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