Abortion rights advocates have now racked up seven consecutive wins since the fall of Roe v. Wade when voters have weighed in directly on reproductive rights. Next year, they’re hoping to build on that momentum.
The approval of Ohio’s Issue 1, the latest measure to enshrine abortion rights in a state constitution, is yet another sign that abortion is a winning issue for groups gathering signatures for even more reproductive rights amendments in 2024.
The ballot initiative process is not available in all states. But for months, coalitions have been working to replicate a version of Ohio’s amendment in states that allow for such an exercise: from battleground states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada to blue states like Colorado and Maryland to red states like Missouri, South Dakota and Nebraska.
For Democrats, who have made abortion rights a central part of their pitch to voters since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling erased federal protections, the initiatives could help boost turnout among the kind of voters they’ll need in the general election. The increased turnout will be critical to President Joe Biden’s reelection hopes with polls by CNN and others showing him struggling to generate enthusiasm amid deep public discontent over his job performance and the state of the economy. Arizona, Nevada and Florida are also expected to have competitive Senate races next year.
For abortion rights advocates in red states that have enacted severe bans on the procedure, these measures are sometimes the only viable path to restoring abortion access.
The Ohio result is “a signal to keep pushing forward” for groups gathering signatures for abortion rights initiatives, said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which works to advance progressive measures.
“When we put reproductive freedom before voters, we win,” she said.
As Ohio demonstrated, winning isn’t just about getting more votes. The coalition backing abortion rights in the Buckeye State first had to defeat a measure aimed at raising the threshold for ballot initiatives to pass from a simple majority to 60%. They also sued to remove what they said was misleading language in the summary of the amendment that appeared on ballots, with limited success. Abortion rights coalitions in other states are facing similar opposition.
Since the Dobbs decision, abortion rights advocates have won ballot initiatives expanding or protecting access in Michigan, Vermont, California and Ohio and blocked attempts to restrict access in Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.
Next year one of the biggest abortion battles could take place in Florida, where the Division of Elections has so far validated more than 490,000 signatures to add a measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, more than half of the total required.
“This was a big win for Ohio, but it also just really buoys Florida’s attempt to get this on the ballot,” said Laura Goodhue, the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
Unlike Ohio, Florida has a 60% vote threshold for constitutional amendments, but advocates say they’re optimistic. Florida voters approved a medical marijuana amendment with 71% of the vote in 2016 and a $15 minimum wage amendment with nearly 61% of the vote in 2020.
The state is also facing its own strict abortion ban. Most abortions are currently banned in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a six-week ban could soon go into effect, pending a decision from the state Supreme Court. If the court rules in favor of the 15-week limit, the six-week ban signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year will go into effect 30 days later. Goodhue said branches of her organization are preparing for such a ruling to drop any day now.
The ACLU, along with its state-level affiliate in Ohio, invested $6 million into Issue 1 this year. Heading into 2024, the national organization is monitoring efforts in a number of states, including Arizona, where a coalition stated gathering signatures in September for a measure to enshrine abortion access in the state constitution.
“We are really bullish on the prospect of protecting reproductive health in some additional states next year, but we are also very excited to work on elections where the issue of abortion access is front and center,” said Deirdre Schifeling, the ACLU’s chief political and advocacy officer, who cautioned that going state by state via ballot initiatives is a slow process and an enormous undertaking, and only an option in about half of states.
“From our perspective, this is an issue that really needs to be addressed at the federal level,” she added.
Abortion opponents are also starting to push for federal regulation. After Issue 1 passed in his home state, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance told CNN his fellow Republicans in Congress need to change strategy and clearly state where they stand by advocating a federal limit on abortion at 15 weeks. They also need to come up with a strategy to win on the state level, he said.
“I do think, given how big the state ballot referenda are going to be, whether they’re constitutional referenda or just statutory referenda, we’re going to have to figure out how to actually win these things, because this is now the battleground for the pro-life movement,” Vance said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, said in a news release that the results in Ohio and Virginia – where Democrats expanded their control of the state legislature – “underscore the dire need for a National Defender of Life who will advocate federal protections” banning abortions after 15-weeks of pregnancy. SBA Pro-Life America spent more than $15 million in Ohio this year to block the abortion rights amendment and has been calling on GOP presidential primary candidates to forcefully support a 15-week federal restriction.
“The true lesson from last night’s loss is that Democrats are going to make abortion front and center throughout 2024 campaigns,” the news release read. “The GOP consultant class needs to wake up. Candidates must put money and messaging toward countering the Democrats’ attacks or they will lose every time.”
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.