In a pivotal series of events, voters across the United States have thrown their support behind abortion rights, with Ohio, Virginia, and other states at the forefront of this historic movement. These wins have not only energized the Democratic Party but also provided them with a powerful platform to influence the political landscape in the upcoming Election 2024, including the race for the White House, Congress, and various other offices.
Ohio’s recent developments offer a compelling snapshot of the enduring relevance of the abortion issue, more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end the nationwide right to abortion. In Ohio, voters, despite the state’s increasingly Republican-leaning tendencies, overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution, safeguarding abortion access.
Similarly, in Virginia, Democrats skillfully harnessed the abortion issue to regain control of the state’s Legislature. The strategy paid off and was echoed in Kentucky, where Democratic Governor Andy Beshear secured a second term after making abortion rights a central pillar of his campaign in a deeply Republican state.
Election night served as a catalyst for Democrats, who now see abortion rights as a pivotal factor that can drive voter turnout in the 2024 presidential election. The campaigning and results surrounding Ohio’s abortion amendment, which was the only one of its kind on the ballot this year, serve as a precursor to similar measures expected to be put to a vote in several states in the coming year. Notably, states like Arizona and Nevada, with their pivotal roles in the White House race, will play a crucial part in this unfolding story.
In addition to its influence in the 2024 elections, abortion is set to occupy the center stage in a series of state Supreme Court races in the same year.
Conversely, the anti-abortion movement has faced a significant setback following the post-Roe defeat, which came as a result of their fragmented messaging that failed to resonate with voters. The scale of the victory for abortion access in Ohio suggests deep divisions within the Republican Party, as a substantial number of Republicans voted in favor of the amendment.
Elisabeth Smith, the director of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that the anti-abortion movement is now “on their heels” after resorting to misinformation and fearmongering during their campaign in Ohio. Furthermore, it has become evident that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and wish to see abortion remain legal and accessible.
According to a nationwide survey conducted by AP VoteCast, over 63% of voters in the 2022 midterm elections believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. In contrast, about one-third of voters hold the view that it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, acknowledged that Ohio’s results should serve as a warning for the GOP as they approach the 2024 elections. She emphasized that the crucial lesson from the recent defeat is that Democrats are poised to prioritize the abortion issue in their 2024 campaigns. Dannenfelser also called on the GOP’s consultant class to recognize the urgency and urged candidates to allocate resources toward countering the Democrats’ narrative on this issue.
The outcome of these events was significantly influenced by the substantial campaign donations poured into the Ohio race by abortion-rights supporters, including substantial contributions from out-of-state groups. The American Civil Liberties Union, a prominent advocate for abortion rights, allocated more than $9 million to races in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia this year, with over $6 million of that sum directed to Ohio, as confirmed by the group’s chief political and advocacy officer, Deirdre Schifeling.
The challenges facing anti-abortion groups go beyond their loss in Ohio. In Virginia, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s strategy to rally voters behind GOP legislative candidates by proposing a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and situations where the mother’s life is at risk, failed to gain traction. Despite the support of many GOP candidates in swing districts, this middle-ground approach did not resonate with voters. Furthermore, it raised questions among Democrats about the potential future actions of Youngkin and the Republican Party if they were to assume control of the governor’s office and the Legislature.
Ironically, Governor Youngkin’s approach seemed to provide a playbook for Democrats on how to help voters connect the dots between candidates and their abortion policies. Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, remarked that Youngkin’s efforts to rally Republicans inadvertently ended up aiding Democrats in understanding the significance of abortion in voters’ decision-making processes.
Democrats have made their intentions clear: they plan to place the abortion issue at the core of their campaigns for the presidency and across the board in the 2024 elections. In a fresh sign of their commitment to link electoral prospects to the results, Vice President Kamala Harris made a rare appearance before reporters on the White House driveway, expressing confidence in securing victory.
The Republican presidential primary has seen some candidates, such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, express support for a national abortion ban at 15 weeks. However, other candidates have offered vaguer responses.
Former President Donald Trump, known for nominating three Supreme Court justices pivotal in overturning Roe vs. Wade, has refrained from confirming whether he would sign a national ban. He has also warned that the abortion issue can be politically challenging to campaign on. Trump has suggested he could “live with” the procedure being banned at the state level or nationwide through federal action.
Following the Ohio vote, Republican presidential candidate and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy stressed that abortion opponents need to change their approach to gain broader support. While he supports states that have enacted six-week abortion bans, he has clarified that he would not back a federal abortion ban. Ramaswamy underscored the need for the pro-life movement to reframe the conversation, focusing on greater access to adoption, childcare, and promoting sexual responsibility for men.
Ohio Republican Senator J.D. Vance echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that Republicans need to be seen as the pro-life party rather than merely the anti-abortion party.
Ohio’s role in supporting ballot measures that protect abortion rights or reject measures aimed at limiting access is of significance. States where abortion may directly appear on the ballot in 2024 have been closely observing the Ohio election. Ohio has provided a valuable example for states like Arizona, offering insights into strategizing and building a statewide coalition of advocacy groups, as highlighted by Chris Love, senior adviser to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
In a glimpse of how abortion rights impact down-ballot races, Pennsylvania voters recently elected Democrat Dan McCaffery to an open state Supreme Court seat. McCaffery centered his campaign on the defense of abortion rights in his contest against Republican Carolyn Carluccio.
Several anti-abortion groups have signaled that the way they respond to this string of losses will be one of the most critical political discussions for Republicans in the lead-up to the 2024 elections. One thing remains certain: they intend to leverage their influence within the party to ensure that the fight for abortion restrictions continues to be a top priority for their candidates.
The message is clear: “the work for and against abortion rights continues, as the nation grapples with the complexities of this deeply divisive issue.”