Widespread Democratic victories emphasize the importance of abortion as an issue going into 2024.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the summer of 2022, every time abortion rights have appeared on the ballot — either explicitly or implicitly — they have succeeded. The same was true on Tuesday night when elections were held in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and several other states. All of these races were largely centered on the question of abortion.
In Kentucky, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear focused much of his campaign messaging on the extreme anti-abortion policies of his opponent, Daniel Cameron. In one Beshear-backed ad, a woman who was raped by her stepfather at age 12 says that, “To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable. I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.” Beshear also campaigned on adding exceptions for rape and incest to Kentcky’s abortion ban, which currently only provides exceptions in cases where the pregnant person is at serious risk of death. These positions proved popular, even in deep-red Kentucky — but maybe we should not be so surprised; after all, only a year ago, voters in Kentucky rejected an amendment to the Kentucky state constitution that would have further limited access to reproductive healthcare.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glen Younkgin sought to achieve a Republican trifecta and take control of both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. Instead, Republicans lost the General Assembly, giving Democrats a majority in both chambers of the state legislature. Democrats took back the Virginia House of Delegates and retained control of the Virginia State Senate after running against Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion “limit.” Youngkin described the ban as “common sense,” but voters did not seem to agree. Interviews with multiple Virginians who pulled the lever for Democrats came away with a similar message: “I don’t like the 15-week ban.”
But the most significant victory for reproductive freedom came from Ohio, where access to abortion was on the ballot in the form of the Ohio Issue one special election. Issue one codified access to abortion within the Ohio State Constitution, nullifying the current abortion ban in place in the state. The ballot initiative, which was the subject of multiple unsuccessful Republican attempts at sabotage, was passed with 56% support from Ohioans. The issue was popular amongst both men and women, people ages 18 to 64, people of all races, voters with a college education and those without, urban and suburban voters and voters who identified as liberal and moderate. Support for the issue was also not closely tied to voters’ approval of President Biden, as more than 70% of those who stated that they “somewhat disapproved” of the president still voted in favor of the initiative.
All of this proves something that Democratic activists and strategists have been saying since the 2022 midterms: abortion is going to remain a salient political issue for a long, long time. Not only will it be salient, it will also be a winning issue for pro-choice candidates. Abortion has yet to fail any time it has appeared on the ballot. It motivates support amongst voters, brings in campaign donations and rallies volunteers. It is not an issue Democrats should run from or dance around. Being pro-choice wins elections. In fact, the only major race Democrats lost on Tuesday night, the Mississippi gubernatorial race, was the only race in which the Democrat did not make support for abortion rights a central piece of his campaign. All this together makes a clear case for Democrats, including the president, going into 2024: support abortion. Say abortion. Make access to basic, necessary healthcare a central point of your campaign. It is not a wedge issue, it is not a base issue. It is an American issue and one that voters across the nation are keenly feeling. As we move deeper into election season, Democrats should not underestimate the power of reproductive freedom and should give it the attention and unmitigated support it deserves.