Abortion Rights Triumphed in Michigan and Almost Everywhere Else in the Midterms

Voters in Michigan, California, and Vermont agreed to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitution.
Michigan State Governor Gretchen Whitmer shows a "My Body My Decision" shirt at the 14th District Democratic Headquarters, during the US midterm election in Detroit, Michigan, on November 8, 2022.
Michigan State Governor Gretchen Whitmer shows a "My Body My Decision" shirt at the 14th District Democratic Headquarters, during the US midterm election in Detroit, Michigan, on November 8, 2022. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images)

DETROIT — Abortion rights supporters notched an enormous victory in the post-Roe v. Wade abortion wars in the early morning hours of Wednesday, as Michigan voters embraced a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

The ballot initiative, known as Proposition 3, has the potential to shift the center of gravity of abortion access in the Midwest, which has largely become an abortion desert since the overturning of Roe. 

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While the procedure currently remains legal in Michigan, the state still has an abortion ban on the books that dates back to 1931. Abortion rights supporters and opponents have spent the last several months slugging it out in court over whether that ban should be brought back to life. Proposition 3 was an insurance policy to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The day of the election, a 12-year-old girl was scheduled to get an abortion at a Detroit-area abortion clinic, Tania, the chief operations officer of Northland Family Planning, a local network of abortion clinics, told VICE News. (VICE News is not publishing Tania’s last name for safety reasons.) The girl is a rape survivor who was impregnated by her brother and is being raised by her grandmother, Tania said.

When Tania saw commercials urging voters to ban abortion in the Michigan midterms, Tania thought of patients like the 12-year-old, and all the other patients she’s seen over the nearly 30 years she’s spent working at Northland.

Abortion clinics in the state have been flooded with patients since Roe’s overturning (although the flow of patients ebbed somewhat after a judge halted an Ohio six-week abortion ban). “I’ve never felt like this before, never, never,” Tania told VICE News ahead of the vote. “Just all of this weight.” 

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“We’re seeing more people come to Michigan as a haven state from out of state,” Paula Thornton Greear, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, told VICE News on Tuesday, ahead of the news that Proposition 3 had passed. “The people that are living in these abortion deserts are people that have to make very difficult decisions. Do I carry forward with a pregnancy against my will? Do I have to make a difficult decision to have an illegal or unsafe abortion procedure? How do I find time to take off work, to travel, to get the money to go to get this essential health care I need?”

The win in Michigan came amid of cascade of good election night news for abortion rights supporters. Voters in California and Vermont also agreed to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitution, while Kentucky voters rejected an amendment that would have clarified that the state’s constitution does not protect abortion.

Kentucky is a reliably red state, and abortion opponents’ failure to pull off a win there suggests that abortion views don’t map so neatly with partisan politics. Earlier this year, voters in Kansas also overwhelmingly rejected a measure to strip the state  constitution of abortion rights.

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In the coming years, as abortion rights supporters and foes jockey for supremacy, there are likely to be numerous ballot measures on abortion rights.

Abortion rights have rarely been at the top of voters’ priorities, but the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe in June has radically rewritten the political playbook on abortion. As the midterms loomed, polling found that voters, particularly women, now see abortion as one of their top issues. Still, Democrats had started to worry that, by November, the rage and shock over Roe’s overturning had faded from voters’ minds.

The victory in Michigan, a deeply purple state, highlights how the issue can cut across party politics.

“I do believe that voters have short memories and we see in other places where they took action much quicker,” said Mariah Phelps, a regional community organizer for West Michigan for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, referring to Kansas. “The situation we’re in is unprecedented, and I think that voters have picked up on that, and they know that no one is going to give them their rights—which is unfortunate, because it’s called a right for a reason.”

On Tuesday night, dozens of Proposition 3 supporters swanned around a watch party at a swanky hotel in downtown Detroit. Many wore orange and purple shirts, in the colors of the campaign, drinking as Taylor Swift blasted from speakers and TVs broadcasted election night results from around the country. Heads of some of the most bold-faced organizations in abortion rights, such as the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, occasionally retreated from the main watch party to a separate gathering in the hotel.

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Results on Proposition 3 were not expected until noon Wednesday. By midnight, the party had largely dissipated. But shortly afterward, news outlets started to announce that Proposition 3 had passed.

In a statement, Reproductive Freedom for All, the campaign behind Proposition 3, claimed “a historic victory.”

“Michigan has paved the way for future efforts to restore the rights and protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide,” said Darci McConnell, spokesperson for the campaign.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a staunch abortion rights supporter, also won re-election Tuesday. Democrats also appear set to control the state legislature, effectively erasing the possibility that Republicans will attempt to find a way around Proposition 3 and pass abortion restrictions anyway.

Update: This story has been updated to include the results of the Kentucky amendment vote on abortion rights.