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Voters in 6 states have now stood with women. Pro-choice forces must persist

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

In the first nationwide test of public sentiments since the Supreme Court last summer ended abortion rights in America, voters got to have their say. So far, their verdict has been resounding: Voters in almost a half-dozen states cast their ballots Nov. 8 for measures to protect the biological self-determination of women — and nowhere did voters turn back those rights. Exit polls indicated it was the second-most important overall subject motivating voters and by far the most important one motivating people to vote Democratic.

Pro-choice forces must heed the clear message here and make sure the topic remains front and center throughout the lead-up to 2024.

The court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade this year was heavily influenced by the personal preferences of five conservative justices, who chose to disregard a half-century of court precedent. Privacy rights implicit in the Constitution were held less important than states’ rights. They also disregarded the views of a strong majority of Americans who support abortion rights with reasonable restrictions.

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In this photo from June 24, 2022, abortion rights activists protest outside the U.S. federal courthouse after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, in Detroit. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

By removing Roe’s nationwide guarantee of abortion rights within the first trimester, the court effectively threw the issue back to the states. Red state governments in Missouri and elsewhere responded by quickly gutting abortion rights in their laws. Kansas lawmakers wanted to join the anti-choice stampede, but the state's courts had already ruled that the Kansas Constitution protected abortion rights. So Republicans pushed a referendum on last August’s ballot to amend the state constitution — only to see their normally conservative voters overwhelmingly defeat it.

It’s now clear that outcome was no fluke. Five additional states on Tuesday had measures on their ballots either bolstering or undercutting abortion rights. And in every case, voters sided with women’s ability to control their own bodies, including in the red states of Kentucky and Montana and the swing state of Michigan.

Kentucky’s measure would have explicitly established that the state’s constitution doesn’t protect abortion rights, while Montana’s measure sought to confront the specter of “born-alive” abortions — which in the real world virtually never happen but which anti-abortion activists have used to gin up emotion on the topic. Both measures failed. Voters in Michigan, California and Vermont all enshrined abortion rights in their state constitutions.

Missouri voters aren’t nearly as radically right as their elected legislators, as evidenced by voter-approved referendums on Medicaid expansion, labor rights, the minimum wage and, last week, legalized recreational marijuana sales and use. The once-unthinkable idea of putting abortion rights on the ballot in Missouri is perhaps something pro-choice activists here should be looking at.

Nationally, Democrats should take Tuesday’s results as evidence that abortion rights are indeed a politically potent topic that should be highlighted at every turn. As congressional Republicans whisper about a federal abortion ban should they ultimately win control of Congress, Democrats should be talking more loudly about bolstering abortion rights nationally — which can only happen if they win in 2024.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).