Kentucky rejects anti-abortion constitutional amendment in surprise victory for reproductive rights

Health, Fitness & Food

Counter-protestors hold signs in front of a rally encouraging voters to vote yes on Amendment 2, which would add a permanent abortion ban to Kentuckys state constitution, on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, on October 1, 2022.
Stefani Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

In a surprise victory for reproductive rights, voters in conservative Kentucky have rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have protected the state’s abortion ban from legal challenge, NBC News projects. 

About 52% of those who cast ballots rejected an amendment that said there’s no right to an abortion under the state constitution.

Kentucky banned abortion immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The amendment put before voters Tuesday was an attempt by anti-abortion activists to shield the state’s ban from legal challenges by making it ironclad under the state constitution.

Although abortion remains illegal in Kentucky, the defeat of the constitutional amendment will make it easier for reproductive rights activists to fight the ban in state courts.

“This is a victory for bodily autonomy and the right of all Kentuckians to make the best decisions for themselves, but the fight is not over,” said Amber Duke, executive director for the ACLU of Kentucky. “We will now continue our fight in state court to restore abortion access in the commonwealth.”

The defeat of the amendment in Kentucky is another indication that there are limits to anti-abortion politics even in conservative states. Protect Kentucky Access, the coalition that opposed the amendment, ran a moderate campaign that sought to also win over conservatives who support abortion restrictions but also believe the procedure is necessary in some situations.

Kentucky’s abortion ban makes performing the medical procedure a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, but there is one for when the mother’s life is in danger. Women cannot be prosecuted for receiving an abortion under the Kentucky law.

Kentucky has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has represented the state in Washington since 1985. On Tuesday, Kentucky re-elected Republican Sen. Rand Paul, another deeply conservative politician.

The defeat of the anti-abortion ballot measure in Kentucky is the second surprise victory for abortion rights in a conservative state since the Supreme Court overturned Roe over the summer. In August, voters in Kansas resoundingly rejected a measure that sought to strip abortion rights from the state constitution.

Other states protect abortion

In another important victory for reproductive rights, Michigan on Tuesday voted to protect abortion as right under its state constitution. The establishment of abortion as a right under Michigan’s constitution comes after the fall of Roe raised the possibility that a 91-year-old ban on the procedure could go back into effect. 

Michigan will now become an important safe haven for women seeking abortions in the Midwest, where access is dwindling after the fall of Roe.

California and Vermont also voted to protect abortion as a right under their state constitutions in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Though reproductive rights were never in jeopardy in these solidly liberal states, the amendments guarantee abortion access for future generations. 

A solid majority of midterm voters nationwide, some 60%, said abortion should be legal, according to NBC News exit polls. And 27% of voters said abortion was the most important issue for them, behind only inflation among voters’ concerns, according to the exit polls.

Sixty percent of voters said they were either dissatisfied or angry with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, according to the polls. Thirty-seven percent of voters said they were enthusiastic or satisfied with the high court’s decision to end federal abortion rights.

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