Mid-Term Elections Limit Abortion for Some While Ensuring Access for Others

Lauren Paulk

November 9, 2018 | Reproductive Rights

Tuesday’s elections brought some mixed results around abortion rights. While Oregon turned out in a big way to reaffirm abortion access for everyone regardless of income, a majority of West Virginia and Alabama voters paved the way for increased abortion restrictions in both states. As with all abortion restrictions, these measures will have the most impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color in these three states.

Alabama: Amendment 2

Alabama Amendment 2 will amend the Alabama state constitution to say there is no right to abortion or to funding of abortion. Alabama has increasingly made it difficult to access abortion care due to numerous restrictions. Amendment 2 enables anti-abortion legislators and activists to push through harmful restrictions on abortion without fear that they could be overturned in state court. It also lays the groundwork for Alabama to ban abortion completely if Roe v. Wade is overturned or gutted.

Amendment 2 also adds language to the constitution stating that it is the public policy of Alabama to support the "sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life." Though this does not immediately change the law, it is a clear signal that Alabama supports fetal and embryonic personhood, further laying the groundwork for restrictions on abortion, and priming the state to claim that it has a voter mandate of support (the measure passed 59 percent to 41 percent) for a total ban on abortion if Roe is overturned.

Perhaps more immediately dangerous, this language could be used by Alabama to support the criminalization of pregnant women. Alabama already has a bad history when it comes to imposing criminal penalties on pregnant women with addiction and substance use disorders. Instead of offering women help and support, the state may double down on jailing pregnant women who use drugs during their pregnancy. Alabama may also use this policy to punish women who self-manage their own abortions. The state could also move to restrict or police in-vitro fertilization and certain forms of birth control.

West Virginia: Amendment 1

West Virginia Amendment 1, which declared “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion,” was approved by a slim margin (52 percent voting for, 48 percent against.) A previous court case held the West Virginia Constitution protects the right to abortion for all women, including the right to coverage for care under state Medicaid. However, the passage of Amendment 1 undoes that protection and will leave West Virginians vulnerable to a variety of abortion restrictions, including a total ban if Roe is overturned.

Oregon: Measure 106

In a bright spot for abortion access on Election Day, Oregon voters made sure their state stood firm as a leader in providing care and coverage. Oregon Measure 106 would have amended the Oregon Constitution to prohibit spending public funds on abortion. This was a backdoor ban on abortion that would have limited access for both public employees and people on Medicaid, meaning access to abortion care in Oregon would have depended on how much money someone makes and where they work. The measure would have had the most impact on low-income women and public employees in the state, who currently have access to abortion coverage via state Medicaid and state employee insurance due to a 2017 law. Thankfully, Oregon voters roundly rejected the measure voting 63 percent against and 37 percent for.

In other good news, more states – including New Mexico, Colorado, and Maine – now have strong pro-choice governors and a critical opportunity to shore up protections and expand access to abortion care for millions of people.

The National Partnership is grateful to the organizers and organizations that fought hard on each of these ballot measures, and to the many people in states across the country who have and will continue to lead the way on reproductive health, rights, and justice. We will continue to join you in pushing back against attacks on abortion at the ballot box and seizing on every opportunity we have to move our shared work forward.

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