How putting abortion on the ballot could tip US election scales

Demonstrators for abortion rights outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Demonstrators for abortion rights outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

What’s the context?

Here's why abortion could be on the ballot in November and how the issue could sway the presidential race

  • About a dozen states may have abortion-related ballot items
  • Biden, Trump camps lay out stark differences on issue
  • Voters back abortion rights in battleground state polling

RICHMOND - U.S. activists are racing to secure direct votes to protect abortion rights alongside the November presidential election in about a dozen states, moves that Democrats hope could help President Joe Biden's prospects of re-election.

This year will mark the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn a decades-long constitutional right to an abortion - an issue that played a key role in the 2022 mid-term elections and other races last year.

Advocates behind the effort to include votes on abortion say their chief concern is safeguarding women's health and reproductive rights, though in a presidential race likely to be decided in a handful of states, some also say the issue could be critical in battlegrounds like Nevada and Arizona.

Lindsey Harmon, president of Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom, said abortion access would be central to the election.

Her group faces a June 26 deadline to turn in the roughly 103,000 signatures needed to get a ballot on enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution up for a direct vote in November.

"We expect that voters will come out on this issue and take the time to make a meaningful decision about the ballot questions, but also that they're going to be looking for candidates that support this issue," Harmon said.

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Biden has decried the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and his campaign is eager to draw a contrast with his likely opponent, Donald Trump.

The former president has touted his appointment of three justices who voted to overturn Roe, but has since equivocated on how far he would like to see the federal government and states go on new restrictions.

In Montana, home to a critical U.S. Senate race that could determine whether a new national ban is possible, abortion access is "really galvanising people to get involved," said Kiersten Iwai, executive director of Forward Montana, a youth-focused advocacy group.

Her group is part of a coalition working to gather the 60,000 signatures needed ahead of a June 21 deadline to get a vote on whether to guarantee abortion rights in the state constitution.

"We are anticipating that we will see turnout from folks who might otherwise maybe wouldn't have turned out," Iwai said.

After Roe

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights supporters have won all seven times the issue has been put directly to voters, and there are now active or already successful efforts to get initiatives on the ballot in about a dozen states.

Lawmakers in Arizona this month repealed a Civil War-era near-total ban on abortion, but left in place a ban on terminations after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But organisers in the state say they have already surpassed the roughly 380,000 signatures they need by early July to get an item enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution up for a vote.

"I do think we are seeing increased enthusiasm ... and so we very much intend to turn people out to vote this fall from all walks of life – from college students to folks in the rural (areas)," said Cheryl Bruce with Arizona for Abortion Access.

Abortion rights demonstrators protest outside the United States Supreme Court

Abortion rights demonstrators protest outside the United States Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Abortion rights demonstrators protest outside the United States Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

In Florida, the state Supreme Court recently green-lit a ballot measure that would enshrine similar protections in that state's constitution, while also allowing a new ban on abortion after six weeks to take effect.

Sarah Parker, president of Women's Voices of SW Florida, one of the groups behind the signature-gathering push, said the ballot item could well drive turnout for like-minded candidates, but that was far from her top concern.

"Our focus is getting patients access to health care," Parker said. "I just really want to win yes on (the proposed amendment). And I think we'll see a lot more voters turn out."

Biden v Trump

Democrats and the Biden campaign are banking on the still-simmering energy surrounding the issue of abortion rights to trickle up and get people who might have otherwise stayed at home to also vote for the incumbent president.

"Every time voters have gone to the polls since Trump overturned Roe, they have rejected the MAGA agenda to take away reproductive rights," Biden campaign spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg told Context. "This November, they'll do it again."

Trump carried Florida by about three percentage points in 2020, and Biden won Arizona and Nevada by narrow margins. The three are among a group of a half a dozen or so states seen as the most competitive.

Kelsey Pritchard with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion advocacy group, said there was a good chance the Florida measure would be defeated – it needs the support of 60% of voters - and downplayed the notion that it would be of significant help to the Biden campaign.

"This idea that Florida is in play is a little out there because Florida is where the red wave materialised in 2022," Pritchard said, noting Governor Ron DeSantis's blowout victory and other down-ballot wins for Republicans.

Anti-abortion demonstrators cheer U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

Anti-abortion demonstrators cheer U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

Anti-abortion demonstrators cheer U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said the former president "has long been consistent in supporting the rights of states to make decisions on abortion."

A recent survey found 64% of residents in battleground states - Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

"We welcome support from both sides of the aisle, but I think voters are really going to be looking at which candidates are supporting this issue," said Harmon of Nevada.

"Abortion access is broadly popular with voters and (people) are pissed as a result of the (Supreme Court) decision."

(Reporting by David Sherfinski; Editing by Jon Hemming)


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