Alice Miranda Ollstein, Megan Messerly and Jessica Piper
Justice Samuel Alito challenged voters to decide the future of abortion when he wrote the U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last year.
“We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond,” he noted as he threw out half a century of precedent.
Now, 17 months later, the court has an answer: Americans want to preserve or restore Roe-like protections. In contest after contest, including a major victory in Ohio this week, voters decisively chose abortion rights over limitations — even in deep-red pockets of the country.
When the right to abortion is on the ballot, it wins. It wins in red states that voted for President Donald Trump. It wins in counties President Joe Biden lost by more than 20 points. It wins when popular Republican officials campaign for it and when they ignore it. And it wins even when the outcome has no immediate effect on abortion access.
Support for abortion cuts across party lines, performing significantly better at the ballot box than Biden and other Democrats. In fact, abortion outruns Biden most in the most Republican areas, according to a POLITICO analysis of election results from the five states that have had direct votes on abortion rights. In those five states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio — every county that voted for Biden also voted for abortion rights.
In the counties where Biden received less than 20 percent of the vote in 2020, the abortion-rights side has averaged 31 percent in referendums — an 11-point gap.
The pattern of cross-partisan support for abortion is so strong, the analysis found, that it suggests only a small handful of states, such as Wyoming or Alabama, might be uniformly conservative enough to vote against abortion if given the opportunity.
The data reflects Americans’ life experience: Nearly 1 in 4 women will have an abortion, and nearly 60 percent of abortions are among women who already have children.
“Abortions being ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ legal won in Texas. It won in every state in which we polled the question,” said Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute. “That’s where America is.”
This week, in addition to Ohio approving a ballot measure enshrining abortion protections in the state Constitution and effectively repealing a six-week ban, Virginia rejected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s calls for a 15-week ban and handed Democrats control of the Legislature. Kentucky also reelected pro-abortion rights Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania sent an abortion-rights supporter to the state Supreme Court.
Those victories Tuesday night, which built on abortion-rights triumphs in several states last year, are expected to fuel ballot initiatives in several more states in 2024 and ensure abortion is a leading argument in Democratic campaigns for the White House and Congress.
For conservative officials and opponents of abortion rights, Tuesday was another brutal night that ended with finger-pointing and disagreements on how to move forward. Some demanded Republicans campaign harder on restricting abortion while others urged them to avoid the topic.
“I don’t think it’s a big secret that in many states, abortion is not a winning issue for Republicans,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters Wednesday, adding that the GOP should try to steer the conversation to other areas, including the economy. “Let’s focus on making people’s lives better by bringing the cost of living in line with their incomes.”
Multiple abortion opponents also called Wednesday for more efforts to ban or restrict the ability to vote directly on abortion-rights ballot initiatives after Tuesday’s sweeping losses.