Abortion is on the ballot on Tuesday, and key elections in Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania will be a test of the staying power of the issue more than a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Abortion rights have won in every state that voted on the issue since the fall of Roe v. Wade, and groups on both sides have been pouring tens of millions of dollars into off-year elections.
While Ohio is the only state that will vote directly on an abortion measure Tuesday, it’s a central issue in both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race and Virginia’s legislative elections.
Voters have sided with abortion rights in six states since the end of Roe v. Wade, including in conservative Kentucky and Kansas. Democrats have been able to ride a wave of post-Roe anger over abortion, and are looking to use it as a powerful cudgel against Republicans in 2024.
Their efforts on Tuesday are likely to be a sign of whether the strategy can continue to be successful, especially as more states look to take up abortion ballot measures.
“We’re hoping to come out of Ohio and Virginia, Pennsylvania, with a clear national message that when abortions are on the ballot, abortion wins,” said Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All.
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – JUNE 15: (L-R) Amazon Vice President of World Wide Economic Development Holly Sullivan walks with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and his wife Suzanne Youngkin as they tour Amazon HQ2 during their grand opening ceremony on June 15, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. The first phase of HQ2 will have space for 14,000 Amazon employees and includes a 2.5 acre public park. Phase two of the development is delayed and there is no timeline for its completion. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Virginia Democrats are hoping to gain full control of the commonwealth’s Statehouse, and are arguing a victory is the only way to ensure abortion access is protected.
Popular GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has voiced his support for a 15-week ban on most abortions with exceptions, and has tried to paint his views as a moderate compromise.
“I think this is one where Virginians come together around reasonableness,” Younkin said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
An earlier ad sponsored by Youngkin’s PAC accused Democrats of spreading misinformation and said state Republicans favor a 15-week “limit,” rather than a ban.
While Democrats are trying to tie Virginia GOP candidates to an extreme abortion position, some Republicans are saying Democrats hold the extreme position for refusing to place any limits on the procedure.
More Election coverage
- Ohio’s Issue 1 abortion access ballot measure: Live results
- Election Day 2023 live updates: First polls close in Kentucky
- Ohio’s Issue 2 marijuana legalization initiative: Live results
- 5 predictions for Election Day 2023
People in Pennsylvania meanwhile will head to the polls to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court. The race could decide the ideological makeup of the court in the future, and could further cement a Democratic majority.
Republican Carolyn Carluccio and Democrat Dan McCaffery are vying for an open seat after Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat, died last year. If Carluccio wins, Democrats would hold a slim 4-3 majority, with three Democrats up for retention in 2025.
Abortion is looming large in the race. McCaffrey has touted his endorsement from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which sponsored an ad campaign attacking Carluccio on abortion.
Carluccio has insisted that abortion law in Pennsylvania is settled, and has repeatedly stressed her judicial independence. But she has also received the backing of several anti-abortion groups in the state.
Abortion rights groups argue the issue has staying power, and aren’t concerned about their message losing its potency.
“This is an issue that resonates with the vast majority of the population. Support for abortion access is incredibly high,” said Ryan Stitzlein, vice president of political and government relations at Reproductive Freedom for All.
“And so while you have an example in Ohio, where abortion is quite literally on the ballot, our message to voters is in every race, you know, up and down the ballot, abortion is on the ballot.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine meets with reporters after touring the Norfolk Southern train derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Ohio will vote on a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion protections into the state’s constitution.
Anti-abortion leaders and GOP politicians acknowledge the campaign against the ballot measure is a major test of whether conservatives can prevail on the issue.
Ohio is the first red state where voters are being asked to affirmatively vote in favor of changing the laws to protect abortion, rather than voting against the status quo.
“When Ohioans understand the sweeping consequences of enshrining this measure in the state constitution, whether they are pro-choice or pro-life, they understand it is far too extreme and we see minds change right before our eyes,” said Kelsey Pritchard, director of state public affairs at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Like in Virginia, Republicans in Ohio are trying to moderate their messaging. They focus on the issue of parental rights and on late-term abortions, and they rarely mention that a six-week ban currently paused by the courts could go back into effect any day.
Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who signed the six-week ban in 2019, has suggested that if Issue 1 is defeated, he will consider adding exceptions for rape and incest into current law.
On the other side, abortion-rights supporters say a victory would send a powerful message to other states, especially in the face of an avalanche of misinformation and confusing messaging, some of it coming directly from state Republican leaders.
Politicians called a single-issue special election in August to try to change the rules for future ballot measures to make them harder to pass.
That effort failed, but Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), a vocal opponent of the measure who is running for U.S. Senate, used language favored by anti-abortion groups to write the official summary that will appear on the ballot.
The title of the measure is also the same as the one that voters defeated in August. So most who voted “no” on Issue 1 in the earlier election will now be voting in favor of Issue 1.
In a memo sent Monday, Planned Parenthood’s PAC called out anti-abortion politicians for “deceiving” voters and predicted victories across the states.
“These victories for abortion rights will come despite desperate politicians who have stooped to new lows in their efforts to take away our rights — doing anything to get elected and advance their dangerous agendas,” the group said.
“But make no mistake: Voters will see through the lies, and abortion rights champions will win at the ballot box.”