Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont resoundingly approved amendments to their state constitutions last year that now guarantee the right to an abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Many more states can—and should—follow suit.
Two states, New York and Maryland, in fact, have already placed similar amendments on the ballot, but another 21 could do the same thing, as illustrated in the map at the top of this post and in this companion spreadsheet. Together, these 26 states would cover 58% of the nation’s population—a critical step in the battle to restore abortion rights for the entire nation.
Amendments like these can take one of two paths to the ballot. In every state, lawmakers can vote to approve amendments, which then require voters to weigh in before they’re adopted (except in Delaware, where only legislative approval is necessary). That’s how both California and Vermont began the process of passing their new abortion protections. Most Democratic-run legislatures can readily do the same thing, though not all, because some states require supermajorities that Democrats currently lack—and we can be certain Republican legislators won’t help out.
But there’s also another way: In 18 states, voters themselves can place amendments on the ballot by gathering a sufficient number of signatures, the method used by Michigan activists in 2022. Citizen-initiated amendments like these are often even more important, because they can safeguard abortion rights in purple states where they’re under threat and even in red states where Republicans have banned the procedure.
Advocates in Ohio, for instance, have already begun collecting signatures to send an amendment before voters this fall, and there’s good reason to think they’ll be successful. Polling shows that majorities favor abortion access in almost every state, and last year, voters in three conservative states—Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana—all rejected ballot measures that would have curtailed reproductive rights.
A number of states already protect abortion rights, whether by statute or thanks to a court ruling. But statutes can be rolled back by hostile legislatures, and judicial precedent can be overturned by hostile courts—look no further than Roe itself. The strongest means of safeguarding abortion, therefore, is by amending a state constitution. Amendments of course can be repealed, too, but by design, doing so is especially difficult.
Whichever method these states use, the vast majority of them could adopt abortion rights amendments by 2024, though a handful (potentially including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Nevada) require such measures to be passed twice, so the soonest they could complete the process would be 2026. Either way, with Republicans working furiously to restrict abortion wherever and however they can, the time to act is now.