United States: Midterms show abortion is still the issue

Protest against the overturning of Roe v Wade outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Protest against the overturning of Roe v Wade outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 24. Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr

There was no massive Republican “sweep” in the November 8 midterm elections, as many had predicted.

What prevented this “sweep” was that the right to abortion became a deciding factor in limiting Republican gains or defeating them — which the media commentators and bloggers missed because they didn’t ask the right questions.

The question was directly posed in referenda in five states, where the right to abortion was affirmed in face of the Supreme Court’s decision on June 24 to overturn Roe vs Wade.

In Vermont, California and Michigan, referenda to amend state constitutions to make abortion legal were passed.

In Montana and Kentucky, where it was proposed to prohibit the right to abortion, the referenda were defeated.

In Vermont, a constitutional amendment passed by 72% to 23% to enshrine the right to personal reproductive autonomy, including the right to abortion and contraception.

In California, where the right to abortion and contraception was also on the ballot, it won by 65% to 35%.

In Michigan, an amendment to enshrine reproductive freedom in all matters related to pregnancy, including the right to contraception, passed by 57% to 43%.

That these amendments included the right to contraception is important, because some of the six far-right Supreme Court justices who voted to repeal Roe vs Wade have said they would consider making contraception illegal.

Montana’s referendum proposed a new law that would criminalise medical staff who did not make every effort to save the life of a foetus, where there was an attempted abortion, or after any birth. At the time of writing, it was poised to be defeated by 52% to 48%.

In Kentucky, an amendment to explicitly remove abortion rights from their constitution was defeated 52% to 48%.

What makes these votes important is that both states are solidly Republican, which means that many Republican women voted against the amendment.

The BBC reported that “one in four voters said abortion was their top issue when deciding how to vote, according to a Reuters exit poll … [a]nd according to Pew Research, 61% of Americans think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.”

The votes in Montana and Kentucky echoed a vote in Kansas — another solidly Republican state — where a referendum in August on an amendment to outlaw abortion was defeated 59% to 41%.

It appears that the Republicans will get a majority in the House of Representatives, but not a big majority.

At the time of writing, four senate offices are yet to be determined. One of these is Georgia, in which neither the Republicans nor Democrats got a majority, due to a Libertarian Party candidate, who got 2%. There will be a run-off election in December.

In many states where Republican-controlled legislatures have passed laws that de facto restrict the right to vote for Blacks, Republicans set up “monitors” on November 8 to weed out “voter fraud” — a thinly disguised attempt to intimidate mostly Black voters.

Violence was expected, but failed to materialise, as the Republican leadership put the arm on the violent wing they have coddled. It is likely they did so because of the bad press after the attempted violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by a Donald Trump supporter. Pelosi wasn’t home at the time, but the attacker badly injured her husband at their home in San Francisco.

Many Trump-endorsed Republican candidates were defeated. There are reports that Trump became furious at this result.

How will this affect the Republicans in the presidential election in 2024, if, as expected, Trump soon announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination? There are indications that there will be challengers to Trump in the primary, as many Republican politicians see him as a liability.

One of these may be Ron DeSantis, the current Republican governor of Florida. Trump has already singled him out for ridicule, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious”.