While the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision toeliminated the national right to abortion, leading to in more than 20 states, the fight for abortion access persists at the state level. This year, several states are pursuing ballot measures that would either enshrine abortion access in state constitutions or implement restrictions, signaling that the is far from over.
Of the six states that have already, all have moved to protect abortion rights, including California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Vermont.
States trying to ensure abortion access
Currently, abortion is legal in Arizona until 15 weeks of pregnancy, with restrictions. Abortions on the basis of race, sex or genetic abnormality are prohibited. Abortion access proponents are collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ensure the right to an abortion until viability. They must collect 383,923 signatures by early July and by mid-January had reached 250,000.
Arkansas prohibits abortions, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother. Abortion rights advocates are trying to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ensure the right to an abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy, with no prohibitions on the procedure in cases of fetal anomaly, rape, incest or if the woman’s health could be impacted. Organizers are trying to collect 90,704 signatures by the July 5 deadline.
Abortion is legal in Colorado and a state constitutional amendment would prevent the government from taking away the right or disallowing health insurance coverage for abortions. To qualify for the ballot, 124,238 signatures are required, as well as “2% of the total registered electors in each of the 35 Colorado state senate districts,” according to the Colorado secretary of state’s office.
Florida used to allow abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but it passed a 15-week ban in 2022, and last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an even more restrictive six-week ban into law. However, the 15-week ban has been challenged in the courts, and theis still deciding whether the state’s right to privacy applies to abortion. If it upholds the 15-week ban, the 6-week ban would go into effect soon afterward.
A proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion restrictions until fetal viability, which is generally considered to be between 23 and 24 weeks. Organizers have surpassed the number of signatures required, and the next stop for the initiative is the Florida Supreme Court, which willon the initiative’s approval on Feb. 7. If the Court approves the ballot language, the measure is on track to appear before voters in November.
Abortion is legal in Maryland, but voters will have the opportunity to enshrine the law in the state constitution in November. Maryland’s existing law, enacted in 1991, safeguarded abortion rights in case the U.S. Supreme Court restricted abortion. In a 1992 referendum, 62% of voters affirmed their support for this law. Maryland lawmakers in the House voted 98 to 38 last March to amend the state constitution to protect the right to abortion, and the bill has also cleared the state Senate. The amendment will be on the ballot for voters in November, requiring a simple majority for approval.
Abortion rights supporters want to amend the state constitution to allow abortion in Missouri, where the procedure is currently prohibited, unless it’s necessary to protect the health or life of the woman. According to the Missouri secretary of state’s office, roughly 170,000 signatures from six out of eight congressional districts must be collected by the May 5 deadline to get the measure on the ballot in November.
In Montana, abortion is legal until the fetus is viable. Abortion rights supporters have proposed a constitutional amendment to protect abortion access, but the Republican Montana attorney general is blocking the ballot measure. Abortion rights proponents have petitioned the Montana Supreme Court, asking it to intervene.
Nebraska has a 12-week abortion ban that was enacted last May. Abortion access advocates are trying to embed abortion rights in the state constitution with a proposed ballot initiative that would establish the right to an abortion until viability and ensure legal protection for maternal health and life. Supporters of the constitutional amendment must collect over 120,000 signatures from registered voters and must also secure additional signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in a minimum of 38 out of the state’s 93 counties. Signatures for ballot initiatives or referendums must be submitted by July, four months before the general election.
Abortion is permissible in Nevada up to 25 weeks and 6 days. Last September, an abortion rights coalition made up of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed a petition with the secretary of state’s office to propose a ballot question directed at embedding abortion protections in the state constitution. The groups are in the process of collecting 103,000 signatures from Nevadans in order to put the measure on the ballot in November. The deadline for collecting the signatures is June 26. If approved by a simple majority, abortion rights will return for consideration on the 2026 ballot, since secondary passage is necessary to amend the state constitution.
In New York, abortion is permitted until 24 weeks of pregnancy. Beyond this point, abortion is allowed solely in cases where the fetus is incompatible with life or when it’s deemed necessary to safeguard the mother’s life or health. In November, voters will be presented with a state Equal Rights Amendment seeking to enshrine various rights, such as abortion and LGBTQ rights, into the state constitution. The amendment will be approved if it’s supported by a simple majority. The Democratic-majority Legislature approved the amendment in two consecutive state legislative sessions, first in July 2022 and then again in January 2023, enabling it to undergo a statewide vote.
In South Dakota, abortion is illegal, classified as a Class 6 felony with penalties of up to two years in prison and a $4,000 fine for providers who perform an abortion that is not life-saving for the mother. The law allows abortion only when deemed necessary to save the mother’s life, with no exceptions for rape or incest. South Dakotans who support abortion access want to amend the state constitution to allow abortions during the first trimester, which ends at about 12 weeks, and also allow second-trimester abortions if necessary for the health of the mother. They’re hoping to get the measure on the ballot this fall by collecting 35,017 signatures by May 7. The amendment requires a simple majority to pass. Dakotans for Health filed a petition in June of 2022 proposing regulations for second-trimester abortions, linked solely to the physical health of the pregnant individual and a ban in the third trimester, with exemptions for the life or health of the pregnant person.
Abortion bans on the ballot
The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature enacted a six-week abortion ban in July, which is currently under judicial review. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Iowa courts rescinded a previous ruling safeguarding abortion rights. Now, abortion opponents are promoting a legislative initiative aiming to embed a ban on abortion rights in the Iowa constitution. The proposed “no right to an abortion amendment” asserts that the state constitution does not recognize, grant, or guarantee a right to abortion or mandate public funding for abortion services. Both chambers of the General Assembly must first approve the measure in consecutive sessions before it can be put on the ballot in November.
Where do the presidential candidates stand on this issue?
Former president Donald Trump often boasts about his role in ending the federal right to an abortion, having appointed three Supreme Court justices who ultimately voted with the majority decision to return abortion law to the states. But he warned Republicans to be cautious about pressing an abortion ban because it may be a losing issue for them. He also favors exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Nikki Haley has repeatedly said that while she supports a national abortion ban and opposes abortion access, it’s impossible to pass such legislation because of the high bar needed in the Senate. She has instead promised to find common ground on the issue.
“Democrats have scared people thinking that their rights are going to go away. and Republicans have judged people, and both are wrong. We shouldn’t use fear or judgment with any of this. We need to use respect when we’re dealing with something that’s personal,” she said on the campaign trail in November.
President Biden’s reelection campaign is relying heavily on the assumption that abortion access will again galvanize voters in November, as it did in 2022. The president has vowed to restore the abortion protections under Roe if he wins reelection and both chambers of Congress have Democratic majorities.
Abortion is also a major issue in Senate races, including in Ohio, where Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is trying toas the Buckeye state leans further to the right.