State election recap: Pro-life victories
Despite devastating losses, the pro-life movement still celebrated important victories in the 2022 midterms
The week after the 2022 midterm elections, Right to Life of Northeast Ohio sent out an email to supporters with the subject line, “Upset about midterm election results? Read this.”
Leading up to the midterms, conservatives hoped for a shift of power in both chambers of Congress. Pro-life groups were optimistic that at least some of the five abortion-related ballot measures would lead to pro-life victories—especially after a discouraging failure in August when a pro-life constitutional amendment failed to pass in Kansas. Instead, Republicans barely took the U.S. House, failed to gain the Senate, and all five ballot measures went pro-aborts’ way.
But the Right to Life of Northeast Ohio newsletter encouraged supporters to look on the bright side. On a state level, the group pointed out, Republicans—who are more likely to vote pro-life—have control of both chambers of the legislatures of 30 states and a majority on the state Supreme Courts of more than half of the states. Despite the disappointments on Nov. 8, the pro-life movement saw multiple state-level victories, solidifying the pro-life status of some states or opening the door to future victories in others.
Governors who signed pro-life legislation in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming all won re-election. All 10 states also held on to Republican majorities in the legislatures—although, as South Carolina found out in a special session this year, not all Republicans support pro-life bills. Right to Life–endorsed Sarah Huckabee Sanders won Arkansas’ governor race, replacing pro-life Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was unable to seek reelection due to term limits.
Each of those states has existing laws either protecting babies from abortion at conception or upon a detectable heartbeat. Although courts are currently blocking enforcement of the laws in Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Wyoming, a majority of Supreme Court justices are likely to uphold the pro-life laws in at least two of those states.
The pro-life movement also celebrated important victories in Florida. Even with a pro-life governor and a strong majority in the legislature before the 2022 midterms, the state only protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. Part of the holdup has been a 1989 state Supreme Court ruling that declared a right to abortion in the state constitution. But the court has since gained a pro-life majority, and pro-lifers expect the court eventually to overturn that 1989 decision.
Also in Florida, Republicans gained a supermajority in the state House and Senate, and voters reelected pro-life Gov. Ron DeSantis. With those victories, Florida Right to Life President Lynda Bell said lawmakers will likely take up a heartbeat bill next, based on what she’s heard from her contacts in the legislature. She said she didn’t know why they weren’t considering a law protecting babies from conception, but she championed the effectiveness of an incremental approach to passing protections for the unborn.
Meanwhile, Right to Life of Northeast Ohio emphasized the victories in its state in its post-election email. The big win for them came in the state Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide whether the state’s heartbeat law lives or dies. That 2019 law took effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, but a judge blocked its enforcement in October.
Before the election, Republican justices held a 4–3 majority on the state Supreme Court, but retiring Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor frequently sided with Democrats. Pro-lifers feared Planned Parenthood–endorsed Jennifer Brunner, an existing justice and one of the candidates for O’Connor’s seat, would win the chief justice slot. But Ohio Right to Life–endorsed Justice Sharon Kennedy defeated Brunner, and the other two Right to Life–endorsed incumbent justices retained their seats. With a final appointment from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed the heartbeat law, pro-life justices will likely take the majority. Elizabeth Whitmarsh, director of communications for Ohio Right to Life, said she expects to see a final ruling in the heartbeat case by the end of 2023.
Whitmarsh said additional victories in the General Assembly and at the executive level mean the state will likely enact further protections for unborn babies. DeWine decidedly trounced his opponent in his race for reelection, winning 63 percent of the vote. In the state legislature, Republicans gained one seat in the Senate and three—possibly four—in the state House, solidifying that party’s supermajority.
Whitmarsh said pro-life lawmakers might pass a bill to clarify which life-saving measures doctors are allowed to take to treat a pregnant mother facing risk to her life. “Or they’re going to be passing a bill that would end abortion from the moment of conception,” she said. “That’s what we’re really working toward.” That legislation could also face legal challenges from pro-abortion groups. But Whitmarsh said Ohio pro-lifers hope they’ll have a ruling by then from the state Supreme Court in the case of the heartbeat law that should decisively support further protections for unborn babies.
Ohio Senate President Mark Huffman told reporters last week that the Senate would consider a bill to clarify the heartbeat law’s medical exceptions after Thanksgiving, during the lame-duck session. That session runs from the November elections to the end of the year, which will also be the end of the state’s two-year legislative session.
“We’ll also have additional action in that bill regarding foster care adoption, crisis pregnancy centers, a whole number of other things,” Huffman said, according to Cleveland.com. “How far we get with that in our discussions with the House, and certainly the governor’s office is, you know, remains to be seen.”
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