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How the issue of abortion could affect some key races in November

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Abortion will be on the ballot in Florida this fall and maybe in a dozen or so other states as well. That could have big implications, not only for abortion access but also voter turnout and for key races in November. NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon covers the intersection of politics and abortion, and she is with us now for a preview of what's ahead. Hey, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Start with Florida. I want you to tell us more about what the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

MCCAMMON: So it's interesting because it was really a mixed decision. On the one hand, the court is allowing a measure to go before voters in November which would offer significant protections for abortion access. That's after supporters gathered more than a million signatures toward that end. And at the same time, Florida's Supreme Court also issued a decision upholding the state's 15-week abortion ban.

And because of the way that Republican state lawmakers wrote another anti-abortion law, a much more restrictive law banning most abortions after about six weeks that was passed last year, that'll be able to take effect in just under a month. And this means that Florida will, at least for now, become a state with limited abortion access. It had been sort of an outlier in the South for access since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in 2022, which led to new abortion restrictions in a huge part of the region. And so this sets up an interesting fight in November.

KELLY: Well, and let's talk about that fight and broaden beyond Florida. How does what is happening in Florida fit into the larger national battle over abortion rates?

MCCAMMON: So in the last couple of years since the Dobbs decision, voters have uniformly signaled support for abortion rights when the issue has been put directly before them. Polling has shown that a majority of voters opposed overturning Roe v. Wade. And, you know, even in red states, they've pushed back as laws have taken effect which have shut down virtually all abortion access in some states.

Voters are seeing reports of rape victims or women facing medical crises related to their pregnancies being turned away for abortions in some of these states. So ballot measures have become an important strategy for abortion rights supporters in states that have enacted restrictions that may be out of step with what voters want. I talked earlier with Sarah Standiford, national campaigns director with Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

SARAH STANDIFORD: It is an important, galvanizing moment because voters have both experienced and will experience more the harm that comes when politicians try to make decisions that are personal, private and should belong between women and their doctors.

KELLY: A galvanizing moment, she's calling it. So you have abortion rights advocates like her banking on these measures, that they're going to boost turnout among voters. But what are you hearing from groups on the other side, groups that oppose abortion rights?

MCCAMMON: Right. Well, they point to the fact that several anti-abortion Republican governors, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Georgia's Brian Kemp, held on to their jobs in the past couple of years. They point to that with some hope. But they're also looking at these results of ballot initiatives in red states, places like Ohio last fall, Kentucky and Kansas in 2022. And they're concerned. Katie Daniel is state policy director with SBA Pro-Life America, and she says they're going to be working hard to defeat these ballot measures and to support candidates who oppose abortion rights.

KATIE DANIEL: It's incredibly important that we take back the Senate and we hold the House and, of course, win the presidency so that we can enact our vision of a pro-life America.

MCCAMMON: So while they're hopeful about continuing to limit abortion in this post-Dobbs environment, Republicans are also aware that they are struggling with messaging around the issue with voters. We saw that recently, for example, in the debate over the fertility treatment known as IVF, after that controversial Alabama Supreme Court decision.

KELLY: And just to focus on the politics in what is, of course, an election year, what could having these abortion questions on ballots, some ballots, what could that mean for the outcome of key races?

MCCAMMON: So Planned Parenthood officials tell me they're paying attention to about 11 states where ballot measure efforts are underway, similar to this one in Florida. Those include some key presidential states, like Arizona, where advocates say they now have enough signatures to put that question on the ballot. In Florida, though, abortion rights advocates may have a tough fight on their hands. Constitutional amendments there require the approval of 60% of voters to pass.

But regardless of the outcome, the campaign around this issue could drive voters to the polls. That could have implications for down-ballot races. And the Biden campaign says they think the issue could put Florida in play in the presidential race. So they've rolled out a new ad running in several battleground states that's pointing out that former President Trump is responsible for overturning Roe v. Wade, which, you know, just underscores how central the abortion issue will be for this campaign.

KELLY: Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.