color photograph of pro-choice protesters holding paper signs with pro-choice messages such as "reproductive freedom for all" and "let us vote abortion rights for all"
Pro-choice supporters gather outside the Michigan State Capitol during a "Restore Roe" rally in Lansing, on Sept. 7, 2022. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans’ hopes for a “red wave” during midterm elections came crashing down on election night as the race for Congress remained tight. Democrats were bolstered by a historic turnout from Generation Z voters, or those born after 1996, supporting candidates like the 25-year-old Afro-Cuban Maxwell Frost, who ran on a workers’ rights and pro-abortion platform in Florida. According to an NBC News exit poll, abortion rights and gun policy were major players in driving Democrats to the polls. Five states with abortion ballot initiatives all won in favor of abortion rights, and purple states like Pennsylvania and Kansas elected pro-abortion governors, solidifying the need for comprehensive reproductive rights and enshrining at least three states as abortion sanctuaries. 

“Let’s be clear y’all, yesterday was a win! We want to take a moment to give love to all the organizing and canvassing that went into this election and these wins,” said Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. “Organizers are the real MVPs of this moment as they built collective power across movements and leaned into abortion as an issue. In the face of racial gerrymandering and voter suppression bills, we still made it clear we do not support attacks on bodily autonomy and that we are powerful.”

California, Vermont, and Michigan all voted to amend their constitutions to protect abortion rights. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, state leaders have been declaring state-wide protections for abortion. Proposition 1 in California adds language to the state constitution that expressly ensures the right to abortion. 

“Californians turned out in full force tonight to restore the right the Supreme Court took away from them,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As we are seeing in state after state tonight, when people are given the chance to vote directly on the issue of abortion, they overwhelmingly want that right protected. This is not a partisan issue.”

As abortion deserts grow across sections of the country, pro-abortion states are making sure that they remain accessible for patients needing to cross state lines. Michigan joined that group on Tuesday as voters voiced their support for Proposition 3, a win that permanently blocks an 1846 pre-Roe ban on abortion in the state. State officials had tried to enforce the ban after Roe was overturned in June, but it was struck down in state court in September. Neighboring states that have pending abortion bans, such as Indiana and Ohio, will also benefit from having guaranteed access in Michigan.

“This is a seismic win for abortion rights in a battleground state,” said Northup. “First in Kansas, and now in Michigan and Vermont, voters are rejecting the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe and issuing a clarion call that they want their rights constitutionally protected. When people can vote directly on abortion in a non-partisan ballot initiative, abortion rights win.”

In Kentucky, voters soundly rejected Amendment 2, which would have prevented courts from using the state constitution to protect abortion rights. As the state’s abortion ban plays out in state court, this would have paved the way for a permanent abortion ban. Ona Marshall, co-owner of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the only abortion provider in the state, advocated to reject this ballot initiative and was relieved by Tuesday’s results. They can now continue to fight the decision in the state supreme court.

“With this vote, the people of Kentucky showed great care and respect for each other and sent a clear message to lawmakers: that they trust each person to decide what’s best for themselves and their families,” said Marshall. “Our health and how we create our families are private decisions—decisions that we as people of faith and abortion care providers trust each person to make for themselves. We are grateful today that the people of Kentucky protected the right to make critical decisions about their health, bodies, lives, and futures.”

Meanwhile, in Montana, a ballot initiative designed to stigmatize abortion was also decidedly voted down. The initiative, which was strongly opposed by the Montana Medical Association and Montana Hospital Association, would have forced doctors to provide resuscitative care for newborns with a fatal prognosis, despite the parents’ wishes and even when no amount of medical care would save them. If passed, doctors who did not preserve the lives of “born alive infants”—including fetuses extracted during an attempted abortion—would’ve been penalized.

“The victories on all five abortion ballot initiatives really just shows that when you put the issue in the hands of voters, they do not want politicians interfering,” said Morgan Hopkins, president of All* Above All and All* Above All Action Fund. 

While abortion rights were defended in parts of the country, anti-abortion governors and politicians were still elected in other regions. Gov. Ron DeSantis won his reelection in Florida, as did Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. 

“As we celebrate those wins, we are also grieving for communities where hateful, dangerous governors and politicians held firm,” said Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “Especially after attacks on immigrants, trans and nonbinary people, after loss of life from gun violence, and after restrictions on bodily autonomy, our hearts are broken to watch states like Texas and Florida remain under anti-abortion extremist leadership.”

Alexandra Martinez is the Senior News Reporter at Prism. She is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, Florida, with an interest in immigration, the economy, gender justice, and the environment. Her work...