Abortion access headlines Kentucky Midterms

Kentucky voters will decide on Tuesday whether to send U.S. Sen. Rand Paul back to the Capitol, but it’s an amendment on the ballot that is perhaps getting the most attention.

The Libertarian-leaning Republican Paul is widely expected to cruise to easy re-election against Democratic challenger Charles Booker. 

Voters will also weigh in on Amendment 1, which would allow the state Legislature to call a Special Session, a power that currently resides with the Governor.

But Amendment 2 could provide some surprises.

It seeks to eliminate the right to abortion statewide.

“Are you in favor of amending the Constitution of Kentucky by creating a new Section of the Constitution to be numbered Section 26A to state as follows: To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion,” the ballot question reads. 

Two laws are already on the books in Kentucky restricting abortion access, neither with exceptions for rape or incest and only narrow protections based on medical emergency. The two laws took effect this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 

Abortion rights advocates are challenging the laws, arguing the state constitution includes privacy protections that pertain to at least some abortion access. 

If Amendment 2 were to pass, it would complicate those legal challenges.

Reproductive rights advocates are warning voters, particularly women and those who support women, that Amendment 2 would block abortion access even in cases of rape or incest and potentially even when the life of the mother is at risk. But supporters say that is misinformation. 

Supporters of the amendment say it would not ban or stop abortions in all cases, particularly in cases where the mother’s life is endanger, according to WTVQ. Likewise, they say it would not ban abortions in cases of rape or incest. 

“This amendment makes it clear that there is no right to abortion under the Kentucky constitution. Proactively speaking, this means state judges and will keep state judges in their lane of interpreting the law, and not inventing new laws and new rights that the constitution does not speak of,” Kentucky Rep. Nancy Tate told the outlet. 

Defeating Amendment 2 at the ballot box is an uphill battle in deep red Kentucky. While the state is nearly evenly split in terms of voter registrations, with 1.44 million Democrats and 1.45 million Republicans, according to the most recent L2 voter data, it has reliably supported Republicans in statewide contests. The state hasn’t elected a Democrat for President since Bill Clinton in 1992. In 2020,  Kentucky voters supported former President Donald Trump with 62% of the vote. Trump had about the same support in 2016, and more than 60% of voters supported Mitt Romney over former President Barack Obama in 2012. 

But opponents of the ballot initiative are looking toward Kansas for hope. Kansas, also a red state, rejected a similar initiative in August, an outcome that drew national attention.

There, abortion access supporters scored an upset victory on a constitutional amendment on the Primary ballot that, like Kentucky, would have codified that there was no right to an abortion in the state. The shocking victory is largely attributed to high voter turnout. In-person early vote was nearly 250% higher than the last Primary Midterm Election in 2018, according to POLITICO, and the number of mail ballots returned was more than double.

That turnout may have soared because of the proximity to the Supreme Court decision on Roe. The Kansas Primary was just weeks removed from the decision. Kentucky abortion access supporters may not have the same momentum. Polls nationwide show that, while support for reproductive freedom Democrats saw an uptick in the weeks following the ruling, voter sentiment has now shifted toward the economy and inflation.

And without a competitive top-of-ticket race to lure voters to the ballot box, turnout may yet struggle.

Opponents may have numbers on their side though. A Public Policy Polling survey taken October 23 found 59% of Kentucky voters believe abortion should be legal and that government should not prevent access. Even broken down by party, 45% of Republicans felt the same.

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