Kentucky Voters Uphold Abortion Rights in Upset Victory

As the legal fight against Kentucky’s abortion ban continues, voters decided to keep the door open for the ban to get thrown out.

Kentucky Voters Uphold Abortion Rights in Upset Victory
Abortion rights supporters rally to oppose the anti-abortion Amendment 2 on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in October. :

In Kentucky, where abortion has been almost totally banned since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, voters have decisively defeated an anti-abortion ballot measure. It’s a shocking abortion rights victory in a deep-red state, reminiscent of how Kansas voters overwhelmingly defeated an almost identical anti-abortion ballot measure in August.

The measure, called Amendment 2, would have amended the Kentucky Constitution to say that nothing in the document can be construed to protect abortion rights. A “yes” vote supported this outcome, a “no” vote rejected it, and the “no” side won by a 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent margin when the New York Times called the race early Wednesday morning.

“Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow, we continue to fight for everyone to have access to the care, resources, and education they deserve to lead strong, healthy lives,” Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said in a statement shared with Jezebel on Tuesday night.

To be clear, the defeat of Amendment 2 hasn’t reinstated abortion rights in Kentucky. But as the legal fight against the state’s abortion ban continues, the rejection of this ballot measure keeps the door open for the ban to be thrown out—while also demonstrating the decisive popularity of abortion in a Republican state. And that’s an important victory.

Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for the Protect Kentucky Access coalition that organized against Amendment 2, called the outcome a “historic win against government overreach and government interference in the people of Kentucky’s personal medical decisions” in a statement shared with Jezebel.

In contrast, Kentucky’s Republican Senator Rand Paul trounced his Democratic opponent by about 13 percent—a significant ticket split that demonstrates the broad support of abortion rights, regardless of party affiliation. Early results showed the anti-abortion “yes” vote on Amendment 2 falling as much as 30 percent behind Paul in some counties. The pro-abortion “no” vote reportedly received about 164,000 more votes than Democratic Senate candidate Charles Booker.

Similarly, in Kansas earlier this year, the pro-abortion rights option on the state’s ballot measure outperformed President Joe Biden in counties across the state. The message is clear: When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, it did so against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans everywhere.

There was no public polling on Amendment 2 ahead of Tuesday. But, despite Kentucky’s status as an iron-clad Republican stronghold, abortion rights advocates on the ground expressed optimism before the election. Wieder told The Intercept last week that “abortion is popular in Kentucky, people do not want it to be banned or inaccessible,” and Republicans are “starting to realize they went too far.”

Anti-abortion politicians in Kentucky claimed the measure wouldn’t amount to another abortion ban and would simply defeat supposed abortion extremism in the state—not unlike anti-abortion politicians in Kansas, who publicly claimed their ballot measure wasn’t an abortion ban while privately promising fetal personhood was next. If Amendment 2 were successful, it would essentially defeat all ongoing legal challenges to Kentucky’s abortion ban.

“[Amendment 2] will keep state judges in their lane of interpreting the law and not inventing new laws and new rights that the constitution does not speak of,” Kentucky state Rep. Nancy Tate, the Republican leader of the General Assembly’s Pro-Life Caucus, said at a press conference last month.

For months now, legal challenges to Kentucky’s abortion ban have cited Sections 1 and 2 of the state Constitution, and their invocations of “inherent and inalienable rights,” as including abortion rights. In Tate’s own words, Amendment 2 would strike down these legal challenges and serve as an iron barrier protecting Kentucky’s ban.

Kentucky is one of five states that voted directly on abortion through ballot measures this election cycle. California, Vermont, and Michigan voted on measures to establish a constitutional right to abortion. The measure decisively won in all three states. Montana also voted on a deceitful anti-abortion measure that would criminalize doctors who fail to provide health care to newborns even when they can’t be saved—we’re also still waiting for those results.

Most people, across all political affiliations, do not want doctors criminalized for providing health care, or people jailed for the outcomes of their pregnancies, or child rape victims and cancer patients forced to remain pregnant. When abortion rights are on the ballot, even in ostensibly red states, they win.

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