Abortion ban on the ballot? How similar referenda have fared in other states

voting wisconsin
Posted at 11:01 AM, Jan 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-23 12:01:52-05

MILWAUKEE — While Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a nationwide ‘fight for reproduction freedoms’ tour in Waukesha County Monday, an Assembly committee in Madison heard arguments about a Republican bill that would give voters a chance to decide if the state’s current 20-week abortion ban should be lowered to 14 weeks.

Republicans want the binding referendum to go on the April ballot. It’s something Governor Evers' office says he will veto if it makes it to his desk.

The Republican effort to put abortion rights on the ballot is nothing new. Let’s go in-depth on how similar measures in other states have all sided in the same direction.

"We've not asked that question before in Wisconsin up until now,” said Charles Franklin.

Franklin is the director of the Marquette Law School Poll. He says his team is currently in the process of asking hundreds of Wisconsin voters where they stand on a 14 week abortion ban. The poll has already gauged opinion across the country shortly after Roe was struck down.

"In national polling that we've done at Marquette Law School, we find the public is split about evenly 50/50 on a 15-week ban,” he said.

Franklin knows it wouldn’t be the first time a proposed abortion ban has been on ballots elsewhere. 8 other statewide abortion referenda have already taken place in conservative and liberal states.

Ballot referenda.png

"Some of those were to add abortion restrictions. Some were to prohibit abortion restrictions, but the abortion rights side of each of those referenda won, and it won in many conservative Republican states including Kansas, Kentucky, Montana as well as more democratic states like California and Michigan and a bit of a swing state in Vermont.

To be specific, places like Kansas enshrined abortion rights in its state constitution. Meanwhile, Kentucky voters rejected a measure that would have taken abortion rights out of the state’s constitution. Franklin says the results speak to where a majority of voters stand on the issue as a whole.

"I think the main thing to notice is that when the referenda is the only issue on the ballot, people have just an up or down vote on the abortion issue, then there 7 states that have held referenda have gone pretty heavily in favor of abortion rights of some kind at least,” he said.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services data shows just 12 percent of abortions in 2021 happened after 12 weeks of pregnancy.