A pro-abortion ballot initiative sweep
Three states passed pro-abortion constitutional amendments, while two states failed to pass pro-life measures
Five states held referendums on abortion Tuesday, and the pro-life side lost in all of them. Voters in Michigan, California, and Vermont approved amendments adding a right to abortion to the state constitutions. Kentucky failed to pass a pro-life amendment that would clarify the state constitution does not grant a right to abortion, and Montana failed to pass a legislative referendum that would have required doctors to provide life-saving care to infants born alive.
Pro-lifers in the states attribute the losses to their well-funded opposition and the increased pro-abortion energy following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Despite disappointment, the groups are eager to continue fighting in their states.
On Tuesday night, staff with the pro-life organization Protect Life Michigan hosted a watch party for donors and volunteers in a green-carpeted conference room at the Graduate Hotel in East Lansing, Mich. Young people in jeans stood and sat in clusters, laughing and talking about college classes and their hopes for the defeat of Michigan’s Proposal 3.
By midnight 46 percent of the votes were in, and the results did not look promising. For the last couple of hours, the results held steady with 54 percent of votes for the pro-abortion amendment, 46 against. Protect Life Michigan staff made an announcement before the group had to clear out of the conference room for the night. Christen Pollo, spokesperson for Support MI Women and Children and president of Protect Life Michigan, encouraged those gathered to imagine what it felt like for pro-lifers in 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision came down.
“We’ve always been the underdog here,” said Adelaide Holmes, campaign coordinator for Protect Life Michigan. She told the group that their work didn’t end with this election and urged them to think about how they can advocate for the unborn moving forward: “We serve a God who is sovereign over all of this … and have to trust Him and know that there is justice ultimately one day.”
Within an hour, Reproductive Freedom for All, the group advocating for the pro-abortion amendment, claimed victory. By 4 a.m., The Associated Press called the race and announced the passage of Proposal 3.
Pollo went to bed around 2 a.m. but didn’t sleep much. A few hours later, she sent out a press release, attributing the loss to the “onslaught of New York and California mega-donors who flooded our state with misleading and dishonest advertising about what this confusing, extreme proposal actually will do.”
In a 8:30 a.m. phone call, she said she and her team were disappointed. They had not expected this outcome. “We really saw our message resonating with the hundreds of thousands of voters that we’ve connected with through the course of this campaign,” she said. But they just weren’t able to combat the misinformation from the other side. By midday Wednesday, results were hovering around 56 percent for, 44 against.
In Vermont, Executive Director Matthew Strong of the pro-life Vermonters for Good Government was also surprised to see the pro-abortion amendment win with such a large margin of victory. By midday Wednesday, with more than 95 percent of the votes counted, the count was 77 percent in favor, 23 against. “I had a strong intuition that we were actually going to be a lot closer, or possibly even win, just because of the level of activity that we’ve done,” said Strong.
He stayed at home Tuesday night as results rolled in. Polls closed at 7 p.m. in Vermont, and he checked the returns for the first time at 9 p.m.. Strong later said he knew as soon as he saw those first numbers that it would be a landslide in favor of the pro-abortion amendment. But the first hint to him that things might not turn out for the pro-life movement came when he started hearing from exit polls that abortion was the No. 2 issue for voters, right behind the economy. The Dobbs decision gave momentum to pro-abortion groups, and his side’s small budget was not enough to combat the other side’s expensive misinformation campaign, he said.
Strong expects the first fallout of the amendment’s passage to come in the form a complaint against a policy prohibiting elective abortions after 22 weeks at the state’s largest hospital. If the hospital drops that, Vermont could become a late-term abortion destination in the country. “A lot of people in Vermont and across the country haven’t figured this out yet, and they’re about to,” he said.
In Kentucky, the pro-life amendment failed with 53 percent of voters opposing it, according to results available by midday Wednesday. The Kentucky coalition supporting that state’s pro-life amendment released a statement on social media Wednesday morning attributing the loss to the “millions of dollars” spent by “radical, out-of-state activists … to confuse Kentuckians” about the amendment. Montana’s legislative referendum, which would have required doctors to provide life-saving care to babies born alive—including after abortion—also failed, with 52 percent of votes against it.
In downtown Sacramento, president Jonathan Keller of the California Family Alliance attended a watch party for the pro-life campaign opposing California’s Proposition 1. While waiting for results, he watched numbers trickle in for the abortion-related ballot measures in eastern states. Keller was skeptical from the beginning about defeating the pro-abortion amendment in his own state, but he expected a more positive night for the rest of the country. The discouraging results only increased his concern about California.
When pro-life candidates lose elections, it’s hard to pin down the single factor that doomed their campaign. But Tuesday’s five ballot measures were “a single-issue question … it’s a referendum on the state of our nation when it comes to the life issue,” Keller said.
“The Dobbs decision was a huge moral victory,” said Keller. “But it does not and obviously did not automatically translate into victory at the ballot box. And the court decision by itself did not and does not translate into hearts and minds being changed. … We still have a ton of people who believe that abortion is a necessary evil. And that is heartbreaking. … Goodness gracious, even in Montana? Even in Kentucky?”
Keller noted the tendency of pro-lifers to retreat from states like California in favor of more conservative states. But he said pro-lifers should be wary of that temptation. Instead, he urged them to dig in where they are, pour resources into pregnancy centers, increase numbers praying outside of abortion facilities, and organize state pro-life marches.
“As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be salt and light wherever He has placed us,” Keller said. “And there are babies in California who are at risk for abortion every single day, and it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to not say, ‘I wish I lived in a more politically favorable circumstance.’ It is our job instead to say, ‘How can I answer the call that God has given me here in California?’”
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