In the run-up to these off-cycle elections, it seemed like Republicans thought we’d forgotten all about abortion. Despite the shellacking they’ve taken almost every place the issue has been on the ballot, GOP state and local officials kept talking about the restrictions they would place on pregnancy care and bodily autonomy, spreading outright falsehoods about reproductive care, and pretending that the bans they were proposing were just “limits.” More than a year after Dobbs, surely the electorate had moved on?
In Ohio, the proposal to enshrine reproductive autonomy into the state constitution, Issue 1, easily won with similar margins as the summer special election but with turnout close to the 2022 midterms. In Virginia, a deliberately crafted slate of conservative state legislators and candidates went down in flames, along with the political aspirations of Governor Glenn Youngkin, who set the party up for failure by openly pushing for a 15-week ban on abortion in the state. Democrats would hold their margin in the Senate and retake the House of Delegates over his massive miscalculation. And in ruby red Kentucky, Democratic governor Andy Beshear successfully defended his incumbency by highlighting his support for privacy in reproductive health decisions, mirroring the margins of the successful effort to reject abortion restrictions in the state last year.
The stats are still coming in, so we can’t say anything definitively, but early results paint a portrait of a highly motivated Democratic base—women, young people, and minorities in particular—ready to defend our rights against Republican attacks. More tellingly, cross-party consensus seems to power wins for abortion and autonomy, as the voters outside of the GOP base reject the restrictions of the anti-abortion wing. Even though Dobbs is more than a year behind us, it looks like most voters aren’t willing to accept the death and suffering that accompanies the post-Roe paradigm.
Not that Republicans will stop trying to foist it on us; anti-choice rhetoric and initiatives continue to sit at the center of the party’s agenda. Despite the win in Ohio, Republicans there did everything they could to prevent its success, including trying to reset the mechanics of constitutional amendments, secretly purging voters from the rolls, and drastically changing the language on the ballot to be inflammatory and offensive in an effort to discourage voters. In tonight’s GOP debate, it’s unlikely that any of the remaining candidates will back away from what is already a toxic position. Ron DeSantis is sure to brag about his 6-week ban in Florida and how he was uniquely suited to push it through; Nikki Haley is probably going to speak glowingly about South Carolina’s recently implemented abortion ban, and anyone else who’s able to make it to the stage will try to burnish their anti-choice credentials to keep their campaigns alive. Because while most voters are repulsed by these tactics, Republican primary voters want to hear how their leadership will force us to accept them.
So it’s on Democrats to keep us reminded of the importance of our rights, to put the issue of abortion front and center, and to express how the government can keep these decisions safe and private—as they should be. Over and over again at the polls, we have seen that protecting bodily autonomy from the interference of busybody politicians is a popular idea. And as long as we have those protections offered to us, we’ll accept them. It looks like we just need the choice.