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The abortion debate is headed to the ballot box. Here's where voters will decide

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion in 2022, states have had the final say on abortion rights. And now abortion-rights supporters across the United States seek to maneuver around Republican-led legislatures and go straight to voters.

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This year, voters in up to 11 states could face abortion-rights amendments. Several states that outlaw most abortions could see those bans reversed if the ballot measures pass: Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Voters have already backed abortion rights at the ballot box in at least six states since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, including conservative-leaning Kentucky and Kansas.

Getting amendments on the ballot takes legwork, gathering tens or hundreds of thousands of signatures. Then, there could be court challenges.

The statewide up-or-down votes could motivate more voters to the polls, shaping the race for president, the battle for which party controls Congress and, in Arizona for example, which party runs the legislature.

NPR is tracking the amendment campaigns taking place across the country and will update the developments through November.

Colorado

 A Catholic parish against abortion rights begins a two-day walk on Interstate 70 west of Watkins, Colo., on Aug. 19, 2022.
Hart Van Denburg / Colorado Public Radio
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Colorado Public Radio
A Catholic parish against abortion rights begins a two-day walk on Interstate 70 west of Watkins, Colo., on Aug. 19, 2022.

Colorado doesn’t restrict abortion at any time during pregnancy. That has led to the state becoming a regional hub for abortion access.

Coloradans did use the ballot to impose one limit in 1984, when they passed a constitutional amendment banning public funding for abortions.

Now, abortion-rights advocates have gotten a proposed amendment on the ballot to guarantee a right to abortion in the state constitution, which would prohibit any laws impeding that right.

The amendment would also remove that current constitutional ban against public funding for abortions — in Medicaid or state employee health plans. The initiative is similar to the state law passed in 2022. It would need 55% of the vote to get into the constitution.

For more, visit Colorado Public Radio.

Bente Birkeland

Florida

Florida is the most populous state where abortion-rights advocates already have enough signatures and the official approval to put a question on the ballot this November. The state will ask voters whether to protect abortion in the state constitution up to the point of fetal viability — usually about 24 weeks of pregnancy — or, in all cases, to protect the life of the pregnant person.

The state’s six-week abortion ban, which has exceptions for rare circumstances, went into effect in May, further energizing voters on both sides of the issue to come out in November. And Florida requires 60% approval to pass the amendment, a level no other state has met since Roe v. Wade’s reversal in 2022.

For more, visit WFSU.

Regan McCarthy

Maryland

Since taking office in 2023, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore has billed Maryland as a “sanctuary state” for reproductive rights. Moore’s administration stockpiled mifepristone — one of two drugs used in medication abortion — when federal court cases threatened the drug’s future, and it has put money into training more health care workers in reproductive care.

In November, Maryland voters will decide on an amendment that would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution. The amendment would protect “the ability to make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.” The referendum needs a simple majority to pass and is expected to meet that threshold.

Meanwhile, during the legislative session this year, Maryland lawmakers put money aside to help facilities that provide abortions improve security.

For more, visit WYPR.

Scott Maucione

New York

The proposed amendment that could enshrine abortion rights into the New York state constitution doesn’t mention the word “abortion.” The legislature placed on the November ballot a sweeping equal rights amendment banning discrimination based on race, gender, age and other categories including, “pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive healthcare and autonomy.”

Movement toward the ballot proposal started in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade in 2022. Some Republicans oppose it saying it codifies abortion rights in the state constitution – which seems to be the intent.

It survived an initial court challenge and was restored to the fall ballot in June, but opponents could still appeal.

New York already allows abortion until fetal viability - around 24 weeks of pregnancy - and has laws protecting reproductive healthcare providers. But there are no such laws - or an equal rights amendment - in the constitution.

For more, visit WAMC.

Ian Pickus

South Dakota

South Dakota voters will weigh in on a ballot measure that could enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution. Reproductive rights group Dakotans for Health submitted 55,000 signatures in support of the proposal.

After the Dobbs decision ended the federal right to abortion, an already-in-place South Dakota law went into effect banning all abortions except to save the life of the mother — though critics say that this exception remains undefined.

The proposed amendment would allow abortions in the first trimester, add more restrictions in the second and prohibit abortions in the third trimester, with some exceptions.

Some abortion-rights groups say the amendment is too weak, while an anti-abortion group has called it “extreme.”

For more, visit South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

Lee Strubinger

Arizona

Supporters of abortion restrictions demonstrate before an Arizona House of Representatives session at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on April 17.<br>
Rebecca Noble / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Supporters of abortion restrictions demonstrate before an Arizona House of Representatives session at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on April 17.

Arizona took a confusing turn this spring when a court ruled that a near-total ban on abortions, from a law that had been dormant for decades, could be enforced again. But the Legislature and courts have nullified that law, and the state’s ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy is still in effect.

Now a proposed constitutional amendment would protect abortion rights until the point of fetal viability, or around 24 weeks. The ballot measure would also allow exceptions later in pregnancy when health risks are involved.

Organizers submitted more than 820,00 signatures in support of the amendment in early July. They're now being verified by the Arizona secretary of state.

For more, visit KJZZ.

 — Katherine Davis-Young

Arkansas

Arkansas' ban on abortion is one of the most restrictive in the country, making an exception only to save the life of the mother. In early July, reproductive rights group Arkansans for Limited Government submitted more than 101,000 signatures in support of an amendment for abortion access.

The petition still has to be verified by the Arkansas secretary of state in order for it to appear on the ballot in November.

If approved, the amendment would protect abortions through the 18th week of pregnancy.

Some abortion-rights groups, like Planned Parenthood, have backed off supporting the effort, saying it doesn’t go far enough to make abortion more accessible.

For more, visit Little Rock Public Radio.

Josie Lenora

Missouri

The Rev. Love Holt kicks off a rally in St. Louis in February to gather signatures for the Missouri constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion up until fetal viability.
Brian Munoz / St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Rev. Love Holt kicks off a rally in St. Louis in February to gather signatures for the Missouri constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion up until fetal viability.

Missouri’s abortion-rights advocates have collected far more than enough signatures to place a constitutional amendment protecting abortion on the 2024 ballot. The measure would undo the state’s law banning all abortions, except to save the life of the pregnant person, and replace it with language making abortion legal up to the point of fetal viability.

The ballot initiative is receiving significant financial support from out-of-state groups, as well as more volunteer support than any other proposed amendment in the state.

To curb the amendment effort, Republican lawmakers tried to get a separate ballot measure to voters that would have made it more difficult to amend the state constitution. However, using the longest filibuster in state history, Democrats overpowered that attempt.

For more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jason Rosenbaum

Montana

The proposed ballot measure in Montana would add language protecting abortion access up until fetal viability — around 24 weeks of pregnancy — to the state constitution during a referendum in November.

In late June, the initiative’s supporters submitted more than 117,000 signatures in support of the proposal, far more than the 60,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot. The Montana secretary of state is working to verify the petition.

Abortion remains legal and accessible in the state. That’s even though Republican lawmakers have passed several restrictive abortion laws at the request of GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte in recent years. Abortion rights are protected under state judicial precedent.

In 1999, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitutional right to privacy protects access to abortion until the point of viability. The court has reaffirmed the ruling in recent years.

For more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee Ragar

Nebraska

In 2023, the Legislature banned abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, down from 20 weeks previously. There are exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the pregnant patient. Medicaid and private health insurance plans are banned from covering most abortions.

Now two competing amendment drives are aiming for November. Abortion-rights groups propose asking voters whether they want to guarantee abortion access until fetal viability — usually around 24 weeks of pregnancy — and when needed to “protect the life or health of the pregnant patient.” Meanwhile, another group has started a petition drive to place the state's 12-week ban into the constitution.

Both groups said they cleared the requirement of collecting more than 123,000 signatures from registered voters to appear on the ballot. The Nebraska secretary of state is working to verify the signatures.

If both efforts make it onto the ballot and pass, whichever initiative gets more votes will go into the constitution.

For more, visit Nebraska Public Media.

Elizabeth Rembert

Nevada

Abortion-rights activists march in protest of the overturning of <em>Roe v. Wade</em> by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Las Vegas on June 24, 2022.<br>
Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
Abortion-rights activists march in protest of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Las Vegas on June 24, 2022.

Under a state law approved by voters in 1990, abortion is legal in Nevada within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion-rights advocates want to put that in the state constitution with an amendment guaranteeing abortion access up until fetal viability, which is usually about 24 weeks.

In late June, the Nevada Secretary of State said the issue met all requirements to appear on the ballot. For the amendment to take effect, voters would have to approve the initiative twice, once in 2024 and again in 2026.

Polling has consistently shown that roughly two-thirds of Nevadans believe access to abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.”

Nevada Democrats believe protecting abortion access mobilized voters during the 2022 midterm elections, and they plan to make the issue central to their cause this year, with a U.S. Senate seat and congressional seats at stake.

For more, visit Nevada Public Radio.

— Paul Boger (edited)


NPR’s Ryland Barton, Larry Kaplow, Barbara Sprunt and Acacia Squires edited this project. Design and development by Hilary Fung. Copy editing by Preeti Aroon.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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