Ohio shows abortion is still haunting Republicans

  • Voters in Ohio approved a constitutional right to abortion in the state.

  • The result is a major victory for Democrats in what has recently been a GOP-trending state.

  • Ohio was far from the only place where abortion dominated the conversation in the lead up to the 2023 elections.

Americans are still infuriated that Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land, a feeling that reverberated throughout the key races in the 2023 elections that could be a foreshadowing of what’s to come next year.

In Ohio, a mostly red state, voters explicitly wrote into their state constitution a right to an abortion up until the point of fetal viability. In Virginia, a state that has largely trended toward the Democratic Party over the past decade, voters rejected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s effort to establish a political trifecta that would have allowed him to pass a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancies with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. Democrats even retook full control of the General Assembly, a stunning rebuke of Youngkin’s efforts. In a snapshot of the night, an exit poll of Ohio voters found that 6 in 10 voters were still angry about the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.

Republicans — and especially evangelical conservatives — may have realized their decades-long quest to overturn Roe. But in its absence, they have created an electoral albatross that abortion rights advocates have hung on GOP candidates up and down the ballot throughout the nation. President Joe Biden’s team is likely taking notes.

A major moment in Ohio.

Ohioans tackled the abortion issue head-on, passing it with nearly 57% support. Voters were asked whether they wanted to grant a state right to an abortion up to the point of fetal viability, roughly where nationwide rights stood under Roe and its related precedents. Some Ohio Republicans tried to preempt Tuesday’s vote in August by raising the threshold needed to amend the constitution, a thinly disguised effort that would have made it easier for them to win but that massively backfired. Abortion rights advocates have also flooded the state airwaves. According to pre-election spending reports, the main abortion rights group in the state outraised Issue 1 opponents by nearly a 3 to 1 margin.

Opponents trotted out similar arguments that have been used elsewhere to no avail, basing their appeals on issues such as parental consent. Republicans also tried to argue that the amendment would allow late-term abortions, a claim fact checkers took issue with since Issue 1 was written to allow restrictions once a fetus is viable outside the womb, as The Associated Press pointed out.



Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned heavily on enacting a 15-week abortion ban.Alex Wong/Getty Images

A GOP reset failed in Virginia.

The Virginia legislative races were defined by abortion rights, as Democrats seemingly rejected the GOP push to institute a 15-week abortion ban in the Commonwealth, which currently allows abortions through the second trimester — or approximately 26 weeks.

Youngkin, who was elected in 2021 and has been touted as a future GOP presidential contender, sought to reframe the debate over abortion access, which since the overturn of Roe has pummeled the party’s candidates across the country. Youngkin insisted that a 15-week ban was a “reasonable” measure that would garner support from voters, while Democrats argued that it was a stalking horse to enact stricter bans going forward, potentially mirroring the 6-week abortion bans that have been put into place across a slew of conservative-leaning states.

In suburban districts in metropolitan Richmond and Hampton Roads — where Democrats have made considerable gains in recent years — the potential of a 15-week ban appeared to lead many of those voters to back Democratic candidates once again.

The backbone of Democratic legislative majorities were formed in these regions, along with populous Northern Virginia, where the party has built an enormous advantage in the suburbs outside of the nation’s capital.

Andy Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear sought to paint his opponent, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, as having an “extreme” position on abortion.Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Abortion rights played a key role in Kentucky.

Kentucky has a conservative electorate, and Republicans have been ascendant in state politics in recent years, controlling most levers of powers in Frankfort. But Gov. Andy Beshear — a moderate Democrat and the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear — won a second term in office over state Attorney General Daniel Cameron by relentlessly focusing on local communities, education issues, and Kentucky’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

But like the rest of the country, a defining issue of the election was abortion. Beshear’s campaign used an ad which featured Hadley Duvall, a Kentucky woman who had been raped by her stepfather when she was 12 years old. In the ad, Duvall criticized Cameron over his support of a strict abortion ban, which did not include exceptions for the rape or incest. (Cameron later said he would support such exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.”)

Beshear, who supports abortion rights, sought to paint Cameron as out of the mainstream on the issue. And by putting Cameron on the defensive on the issue, he likely peeled off some independents and soft Republicans who thought the exclusion of such exceptions went too far.

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