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Kentuckians voted down an anti-abortion proposal that would have amended the state constitution so that it does not protect the right to an abortion, Decision Desk HQ projects. It is now the second conservative state this year to reject such a proposal.
Tuesday’s results could strengthen an argument that, even in conservative states, abortion restrictions are a losing issue — at the very least, when people can vote on them in standalone measures. The Kentucky vote comes months after Kansans also rejected a near-identical ballot initiative. In both contests, abortion rights groups substantially outraised their opponents.
“Hopefully [people will] reconsider not only abortion rights in Kentucky but look across at those other red states that people don’t invest in,” Tamarra Weider, the state’s director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, recently told The 19th.
Similar measures may appear on state ballots in Pennsylvania next year and in Iowa in 2024.
It’s not immediately clear how the vote will affect abortion access in Kentucky. Since August 1, the state has enforced a near-total abortion ban, allowing exceptions in only cases where an abortion is necessary to save the pregnant person’s life or to prevent severe health consequences. That ban has virtually ended abortion access in Kentucky.
The state’s two abortion providers are challenging the law in state court, arguing it violates the state constitution’s privacy and bodily autonomy protections. Kentucky’s state Supreme Court has declined to block the law while the case is in motion, and arguments are scheduled for next week.
Kentucky voters’ refusal to amend their constitution leaves open the possibility for the state courts to rule in abortion providers’ favor. But there is no guarantee that will happen and no timeline for when a ruling is expected. For now, abortion remains illegal in the state.
In the interim, residents who can are traveling largely to neighboring states Indiana and Ohio, where abortion laws have been blocked by state courts, and Illinois, where access to the procedure is protected. The journey can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and clinics in southern Illinois are reporting wait times of two to three weeks — a delay that could push patients further into pregnancy, resulting in more time-intensive, expensive abortions.
It’s a trip many patients already aren’t able to make, said Ona Marshall, co-owner of Louisville-based EMW Women’s Surgical Center, one of the state’s two abortion clinics. Even before Roe v. Wade was overturned this summer, she said, abortions in the state were difficult to obtain.
“The journey anywhere is expensive. The journey for many people in Kentucky to Louisville was expensive,” she said.