Abortion rights activists score major wins in US elections

Abortion advocates claimed victory Wednesday after US voters sided with protecting access to the procedure in several ballot initiatives, in a rebuke of the Supreme Court's June decision to overturn constitutional abortion rights.

Voters in California, Vermont and Michigan strongly endorsed proposed state charter amendments guaranteeing the right to have an abortion.

In Republican stronghold Kentucky -- where abortion has been outlawed since the Supreme Court ruling -- voters rejected an amendment to the state charter that would have in effect made it impossible to challenge the state's ban.

In Montana, the fifth state with an abortion measure on the ballot, a preliminary count indicated voters there also opposed proposed legislation hostile to the procedure.

- Key election issue -

The results came after a long national midterm election battle in which President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party sought to make a key issue out of the conservative-majority Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established abortion as a constitutional right.

The court's decision pushed the issue to states to decide.

And as anti-abortion groups mounted strong campaigns to outlaw or severely restrict the practice, some 15 states instituted full-scale bans.

Analysts suggest progressive voters were motivated to turn out in larger numbers by the issue, and one result was the votes on the abortion-related ballot initiatives.

Edison Research said its exit polls showed that abortion was the top issue for 27 percent of voters, just below inflation, cited by 31 percent.

"Across the country last night, we saw an unmistakable repudiation of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"From Kentucky to Michigan to Vermont to California, Americans want their right to abortion protected," she said.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said it was clear that the issue of abortion rights "redefined this election."

"Abortion was on the ballot and abortion won," she told reporters.

- Kentucky court challenge -

The votes in California, Michigan and Vermont for constitutional amendments to protect abortion rights were not surprising: all three are firmly Democratic states, and the electoral verdict was clear.

In conservative Kentucky, however, the ballot measure supported by anti-abortion groups was rejected by a relatively narrow 52 percent to 48 percent margin.

If it had passed, it would have inserted into the state's constitution a clause saying that there is no right to abortion.

The Kentucky supreme court is scheduled to hear a challenge to the state ban on abortion next week, noted Elisabeth Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The court will find it hard to ignore the outcome of the rejection of the ballot initiative, she told AFP.

Anti-abortion activists played down the ballot initiatives, noting that many candidates sharing their views were elected or reelected on Tuesday.

"Perhaps the most important lesson from the 2022 midterm elections is that pro-life candidates' success lies in clearly and consistently leading with their position on protections for the unborn," said the March for Life group.

"This was even more true this cycle when pro-life candidates were outspent 10 to 1 on the issue," they said.

- Biden backs 'right to choose' -

With Republicans poised to capture one and possibly both houses of Congress when the full results of the Tuesday vote are known, some anti-abortion activists want them to pass a federal law outlawing the procedure across the country.

But, commenting on election outcome Wednesday, Biden said he would not accept that.

The voters "sent a clear and unmistakable message that they want to preserve our democracy and protect the right to choose in this country," Biden said.

"I will veto any attempt to pass a national ban on abortion," he said.