The New Landscape of the Abortion Fight

The biggest immediate shift may have been in the politics of abortion. While an overwhelming majority of Americans has long told pollsters that the choice to have an abortion should be left to a woman rather than to the law, the issue was long considered a drag on candidates, so morally complex as to be unwinnable. Those who opposed abortion were more likely than abortion rights supporters to make the issue the deciding factor in their vote.

The decision overturning Roe and the midterms changed that dynamic. A poll in September by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 24 percent of Americans said they would vote only for a candidate who shared their view on abortion, up from 18 percent a decade ago. The change was biggest among Democrats, who tend to support abortion rights: 35 percent said they’d vote only for a candidate who shared their position on abortion, double the percentage who said the same thing two years earlier. Among Republicans, who are more likely to oppose abortion, just 21 percent said they would vote only for a candidate who supporter their position, down from 32 percent in 2020.

In exit polls after the midterms, voters across the political spectrum declared abortion rights their leading issue.

“Resist the urge to view this as a unique, one-off election midterm story, and instead see it for what it is, which is part of an upward trajectory of a powerful movement,” Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which supports abortion rights, urged reporters on a conference call last month. “The tides are turning.”

With the failure of anti-abortion ballot measures in red states like Montana and Kentucky, some abortion rights activists are arguing to go more on the offensive, with measures like the one in Michigan that establishes a right to reproductive freedom in the state’s Constitution.

“Ballot measures are at their very most effective when there is a major gulf between what voters want and what their elected officials are doing,” said Kelly Hall, the executive director of the Fairness Project, which helps campaigns for progressive ballot initiatives in red and purple states. “Abortion is squarely in that gulf in almost every place across the country.”

But ballot initiatives are not a guarantee, or a solution, everywhere. Seventeen states allow citizens to initiate ballot measures, and that figure includes several blue states that have already protected abortion rights. There are about ten states that ban abortion and allow citizen initiatives. “That narrows the map,” Ms. Hall said.

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