Abortion issue helps limit damage for Democrats in midterms

Republicans are likely to take control of one or both houses of Congress when all the votes are counted, but Democrats on Wednesday were celebrating after their party defied expectations of substantial losses in the midterm election. The backlash over the Supreme Court’s June decision to roll back 49 years of abortion rights was clearly a big factor.

Inflation and the economy proved the most important voting issue, cited as the motivation of 51% of voters in exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and analyzed by KFF pollsters. But abortion was the single-most important issue for a quarter of all voters, and for a third of women under age 50. Exit polls by NBC News placed the importance of abortion even higher, with 32% of voters saying inflation was their top vote. Issues and abortions rank at 27%.

In the Senate, where Republicans needed only one pickup to take control, no incumbent officially lost, and Democrats held the Pennsylvania seat vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Several other close races have yet to be called, and control of the chamber is held by Democratic incumbent Sen. A December runoff in Georgia between Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker could well rest. In recent decades, the party that controls the White House has typically suffered severe setbacks in congressional power in the midterms.

Among other issues facing voters Tuesday, South Dakota residents approved Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It became the seventh state to expand the program over the objections of a Republican governor and/or state legislature. Previous successful initiatives have passed in Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah. South Dakota’s approval would reduce to 11 the number of states that have not expanded the program to people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, although the list includes the heavily populated states of Texas, Florida and Georgia.

On abortion rights, voters in five states across the political spectrum showed direct support through ballot initiatives. In the most closely watched of these measures, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing reproductive freedom, thereby preventing prohibition from going into effect since 1931.

Kentucky voters narrowly rejected an amendment to its constitution declaring no right to abortion. This made it the first Southern state to express direct support for abortion rights.

Other abortion rights ballot questions were approved in Vermont and California. The California measure, which passed with 65% of the vote, included rights to both abortion and contraception.

Abortion has also been an issue in contested Supreme Court elections in at least six states, where challenges to abortion laws or constitutional interpretations could decide whether the procedure remains legal. One state saw party control of its high court flip: North Carolina, where a Republican challenger defeated a Democratic incumbent to give the GOP a 4-3 majority. Democratic judicial majorities appeared to be held in Illinois and Michigan, which hold nonpartisan judicial elections after candidates are nominated by political parties. In Ohio, Republicans kept their majority on the high court.

Health wasn’t the only issue on the state ballot Tuesday.

In Arizona, a ballot question to limit interest on medical debt easily won with 66% of the vote counted. In Oregon, however, declaring a “right to health care” in the state constitution narrowly loses the most unenforceable question with 64% of the vote.

Voters in California approved a ban on the sale of most flavored tobacco products, while voters in Massachusetts supported dentists over insurance companies to approve a requirement that at least 83% of dental insurance premiums be spent on dental care. Massachusetts is the first state to impose such a requirement.

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