Voters in Ohio and judges across the U.S. are weighing in on the future of abortion access in several states more than a year after the nation’s top court overturned Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion, setting off a series of policy shifts.
Here are the latest developments.
WHAT VOTERS SAY
Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot question that would have raised the threshold for future constitutional amendments and required at least 60% support for a measure to pass instead of a simple majority.
The new policy would have been in place in November, when voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to give voters the right to make their own reproductive decisions, including both fertility treatment and abortion.
Ohio, where Republicans control the state government, has a law banning abortions after cardiac activity can be detected — which is around six weeks and often before women realize they’re pregnant. Enforcement of the ban is on hold while courts consider its legality.
Last year, six states had abortion-related ballot measures. The side favoring access prevailed in all of them, including in generally conservative Kansas and Kentucky.
That’s consistent with polling that finds voters want abortion to be legal early in pregnancy, even in states with laws banning abortion at all stages of pregnancy. The same Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last month found that the majority of voters also favored restrictions later in pregnancy, when they’re in place in most states already.
GETTING MEASURES ON THE BALLOT
Abortion access supporters are aiming to get protections on the ballots in more states in coming years, and their opponents are pushing back.
In Ohio, the secretary of state last month approved the measure for November’s ballot. Days later, two abortion opponents filed a new lawsuit asserting that it should not go before voters because the measure does not state which laws would have to be repealed if it’s adopted.
There’s also a tense legal battle over a potential 2024 Missouri ballot measure to allow abortion in a state where it’s currently banned in most cases. This week, two Republican lawmakers and an anti-abortion activist sued, saying the cost estimate that would be provided to voters considering the measure is too low. They argue that the price tag should account for lost tax revenue and federal funds because fewer people would be born if abortions were allowed.
Arizona advocates on Tuesday announced a campaign for a 2024 ballot measure to protect abortion rights. Similar efforts are also underway in states including Florida, Maryland and New York. Anti-abortion groups want voters to adopt amendments declaring there’s not a right to it in Iowa and Nebraska.
WHAT STATE COURTS SAY
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that there’s no right to abortion nationally, the issue moved to states and state courts. State laws are tested against state constitutions by judges who in many cases are elected or approved by voters.
Most Republican-dominated states have put into place new abortion bans or restrictions, including 15 where bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy are now in effect. Nearly all the bans have been challenged in court. Most Democratic-controlled states have adopted policies to try to protect abortion access.
Utah’s state Supreme Court this week heard arguments on whether to let the ban there take effect. It’s been on hold for more than a year while a lower court considers whether the ban complies with the state constitution.
Last week, a Texas judge ruled that the state’s ban is too restrictive for women with serious pregnancy complications and must allow exceptions. But the state attorney general’s office appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, so the law remains in effect.
The wait is on in Indiana, too. The state’s six abortion clinics stopped providing abortions just before a ban kicked in on Aug. 1. Advocates for abortion rights have asked the state’s top court to allow abortion to resume while litigation over the ban plays out.
THE RULES THAT DETERMINE ACCESS
Not all the pending abortion lawsuits center on whether abortion should be legal. Some focus on the rules about how it is performed, most of them designed to make it harder to access.
In Kansas, where abortion is legal for the first 22 weeks of pregnancy, a judge held a hearing Tuesday over a requirement that doctors tell patients that medication abortions can be reversed soon after they’re initiated, even though major medical groups say the procedure is unproven and potentially dangerous. It’s not clear when a ruling might be made.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court said the U.S. Territory of Guam is allowed to require people seeking medication abortions to have an in-person consultation with a doctor, even though the nearest one willing to prescribe the medication is an eight-hour flight away.
A federal judge in Illinois this month blocked a new rule the Democratic-controlled state had imposed to penalize anti-abortion counseling centers for using “misinformation, deceptive practices or misrepresentation” to interfere with access to abortion or emergency contraception services. The judge called it “painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment.”
Also earlier this month, in another free speech case, a federal judge ruled that Idaho cannot sanction medical providers for referring patients to abortion services in states where they’re legal.
Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press