2023 elections: Abortion rights at stake in key races across U.S.

The legality of the procedure will once again be front and center in a number of contests this week.

Voters have consistently turned up at the polls to support abortion rights since the repeal of Roe v. Wade last year. And today, Democrats are once again betting that the issue will carry their candidates to victory.

Here’s a run-down of where abortion will again be on the ballot today, either directly or as a key issue in some of the nation’s biggest races.

Ohio Issue 1

A woman wears a pro-choice button in Ohio
A woman wears a pro-choice button ahead of the election in Columbus, Ohio. (Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images)

Voters in Ohio will get to decide the state’s abortion laws directly today, where supporters of a ballot initiative known as Issue 1 hope to create a constitutional right to the procedure in the Buckeye State.

Should it pass, Issue 1 would establish “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion” in the state’s constitution. Should it fail, however, the state’s abortion laws will remain in limbo while restrictions pushed by Republicans are litigated in court.

To pass, the measure needs to exceed 50% support from voters.

Groups on both sides of the issue have raised more than $60 million, with most of it going to television ads, while officials have reported high turnouts in early voting.

Democrats, who have seen their fortunes dwindle in Ohio for years, are leaning into the fight, hoping it can set the tone for 2024. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is up for reelection next year in what is expected to be a tough race due to the state’s Republican lean.

A poll last month showed 58% support for the measure, which is in line with results of an August special election. In that race, 57% of voters rejected a GOP-proposed measure that would have required 60% support to pass constitutional amendments like Issue 1.

Kentucky governor

Gov. Andy Beshear, right
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, right, campaigning in Owensboro on Saturday. (Greg Eans/Messenger-Inquirer via AP)

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear defeated unpopular Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in a tight race four years ago, and has a solid chance at a second term in the red state.

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Beshear’s Republican challenger, has been hammered for his support of the state’s current abortion ban. Kentucky’s abortion laws are among the strictest in the nation and do not include exceptions for rape and incest.

One noteworthy ad from the Beshear campaign featured a Kentucky woman who was raped by her stepfather at age 12, and cites Cameron directly. And Beshear himself, while also running on his economic record and his experience handling recent natural disasters, has repeatedly put abortion access front and center in his pitch to voters.

“This race is about whether you think that victims of rape and incest should have options, that the couples that have a nonviable pregnancy should have to carry it to term even though that child is going to die,” Beshear said last week.

Although Kentucky’s two senators are both Republicans and the state routinely supports GOP candidates in presidential elections, voters there rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution last year.

A recent poll from Emerson College showed a dead heat in the race, following a run of surveys that had Beshear with a healthy lead.

Virginia Legislature

Glenn Youngkin
Viriginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at a recent "Get Out the Vote" rally in Richmond, Va. (Nathan Howard/Bloomberg)

There are 140 legislative seats up for grabs on today: 100 in the state House, which currently has a small Republican majority, and 40 in the state Senate, which Democrats narrowly control.

Virginia is a Democratic-leaning state with liberal abortion laws. But the state has a Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has been campaigning hard for GOP candidates throughout the commonwealth.

Youngkin supports a 15-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Some Virginia Republicans have gone further, however, saying they want a stricter ban. Should the GOP take control of the Legislature, Democrats warn, they will likely move quickly to restrict the procedure.

The Virginia elections will be seen as a key test of each party’s strength going into the 2024 presidential election. The results will also indicate whether a more moderate abortion ban can gain traction with voters. There’s also a slim chance that a Republican victory in Virginia’s election would propel Youngkin, a favorite of the party’s major donors, into the Republican presidential race.

The margins are expected to be tight, with one poll last month showing 42% of respondents saying they planned to vote Democratic and 41% saying they were voting Republican.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Democrats currently control the state Supreme Court 4-2, so the result of this election to fill an open seat will not have an immediate effect on the commonwealth’s judicial balance.

However, with three seats up for grabs in 2025, the result between Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio could end up being crucial.

Millions have been spent on the race, and abortion has been at the forefront. Carluccio has said she’d follow the law on abortion, while McCaffery has been outspoken in his support of reproductive rights.

This result will also serve as a potential bellwether for 2024, with the presidential race in Pennsylvania again likely to be close and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey up for reelection.