In some states, abortion itself will be directly on the ballot. California voters will consider a constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. “This is absolutely a viable option for other states—and one that lawmakers and advocates elsewhere are also working on,” Timmaraju told me. In Michigan, to take one example, advocates are collecting signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment that would protect people’s right to make their own decisions about reproductive health care.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, none of these battles come as a complete surprise. Indeed, in the majority opinion in Dobbs, Alito framed the overthrow of Roe as a victory for the American democratic process. By finding a national right to abortion in the Constitution in 1973, he argued, the Supreme Court of that era had “usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance” and “short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who dissented in any respect from Roe.” The dissenters, for their part, argued that the whole point of a constitutional right was that it wasn’t up for political debate.
In most circumstances, the democratic process runs through state legislatures. But the Supreme Court’s ruling will also force a much broader swath of elected offices to navigate abortion politics going forward. Even in states that criminalize the procedure, local prosecutors could use their offices’ discretion to decline to enforce those laws. In Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas, where the state legislatures have enacted strict bans on abortion, some district attorneys have already pledged not to prosecute abortion-related cases. Their commitments could raise the stakes for future elections for those positions.