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Voters in some states will have a say on abortion access through ballot initiatives

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This fall, millions of voters around the country will get to have a say on abortion access. Just in the last couple of weeks, two states, Colorado and South Dakota, approved ballot questions on the issue for November. It's also on the ballot in Florida and Maryland and possibly six more states. And remember, states decide on abortion now since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade a couple of years ago. NPR's Ryland Barton joins us to talk about all this. Hi, Ryland.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Voters will weigh this issue in several states. Are the dynamics the same in each place?

BARTON: Yeah, so each one is a little different. But what is the same is abortion rights supporters say their legislatures are out of whack with what people support. So for example, that'll be put to the test in Florida, where the state Supreme Court upheld the legislature's six-week ban on abortion and at the same time said voters can weigh in on protecting abortion through the point of fetal viability, considered to be about the 24th week in pregnancy. But it's a high bar in Florida - 60% of voters would have to approve the amendment on Election Day this year for it to take effect.

FADEL: OK, supporters in many of these states are still in the process of gathering signatures to get the issue on the ballot. What's that effort look like?

BARTON: Yeah, there are massive campaigns knocking on doors. They're setting up shop at farmers markets to gather signatures. And each state has different rules of what it takes to get on the ballot. For example, in Arkansas, where there's a near-total ban on abortion, advocates are pushing for an amendment to allow abortions within 18 weeks of pregnancy and in cases of rape, incest and fetal anomalies.

They have to gather about 90,000 signatures and make sure they have at least one signature in each of the state's 50 counties. Nebraska has this odd situation where both abortion rights activists and opponents are trying to get amendments on the ballot, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Rachel Rebouche, a reproductive law expert at Temple University Law School, said that twist will make outreach even more important for each campaign. Here she is talking about the choices in Nebraska.

RACHEL REBOUCHE: The question of, are voters more willing to enshrine a 12-week ban versus enshrine a right to abortion through viability? And that's going to slice up voters in different ways, I would think.

BARTON: So how these campaigns explain the issue to voters will be critical.

FADEL: And how is this going to affect races besides the abortion question?

BARTON: These statewide up or down votes could be critical for other races this year, especially in battleground states like Arizona and Florida. Democrats are betting this will bring out more of their voters in elections for president and Congress. There's going to be a lot of money flowing into these campaigns. And in fact, presidential campaigns and congressional campaigns are now allowed to raise an unlimited amount of money for groups working to pass or defeat these ballot measures.

FADEL: Are abortion rights groups making a gamble that the public is on their side? After all, abortion bans are passed by lawmakers who must think they have the support of the public.

BARTON: Abortion rights advocates argue that the issue is overwhelmingly popular with voters, point to referendums that have already taken place since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Voters in six states trended away from limiting abortion since then in statewide votes. So, like, in Kentucky, where I am, they voted against adding anti-abortion language to the constitution in 2022. That happened in conservative-leaning Kansas, too. Abortion rights supporters say that signals current bans are out of step with public opinion.

FADEL: That's NPR's Ryland Barton. Thanks, Ryland.

BARTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryland Barton
Ryland Barton is a senior editor for the States Team on NPR’s National Desk. Based in Louisville, he works with reporters across the country covering state government policy and politics.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.