Where Abortion Rights Could Be on the Ballot in 2024
As many as 14 states could have abortion-related constitutional amendments on the ballot this year.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stripped Americans of a federal constitutional right to an abortion, state law largely determines whether abortion care is available in a jurisdiction and under what circumstances.
The decision spurred a flurry of new state laws concerning abortion and state constitutional litigation over those laws, as well as efforts to clarify state abortion rights by amending state constitutions. So far, people in California, Michigan, Ohio, and Vermont have voted to amend their constitutions to enshrine abortion rights, while voters in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana defeated anti-abortion amendments. Activism around such ballot initiatives promises to continue in 2024, as both abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates across the country work to get the issue on the ballot this fall.
Amending a state constitution though a citizen-driven ballot amendment is an option available in 17 states. Though the exact process varies from state-to-state, in general, citizens seeking to add an amendment to their state ballot must draft amendment language that fits within the state’s legal parameters and gather a certain number of signatures that meet pre-determined requirements, such as signatures from each congressional district. The language of the amendment must be approved and signatures validated by a secretary of state or other designated official. States have different formulas for calculating the number of signatures needed relating to factors like population or voter turnout in a prior election.
Other processes to amend state constitutions include legislature-driven initiatives, where state lawmakers have the power to put constitutional amendments to a statewide vote. Every state provides for a legislature-driven process to amend the constitution, and in every state but Delaware proposed amendments must be put on the ballot and ratified by the public.
This article rounds up the states that either will have or are working toward ballot measures seeking to define abortion rights on their fall ballots.
States Where an Abortion Amendment Will Be on the Ballot
The Maryland legislature voted last year to put a constitutional amendment protecting a right to an abortion on the 2024 ballot. Though abortion is already legal in Maryland, the Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment would enshrine in the Maryland Constitution a right to make decisions to “prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.” A majority of voters would need to vote “yes” for the amendment to be adopted.
The New York legislature voted in both 2022 and 2023 in favor of an abortion-related amendment, as required by state procedure to get a constitutional amendment on New Yorkers’ ballots. The constitutional amendment would expand New York’s Equal Protection Clause to prohibit the denial of rights to an individual based on their “sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive healthcare and autonomy.” A simple majority of votes is required for the amendment to pass.
States Where an Abortion Amendment Might Be on the Ballot
Proponents of a citizen-led initiative are gathering signatures to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in Arizona. It would protect a right to abortion until a pregnancy is viable, with certain exceptions extending that timeline, such as to protect the health of the mother. Advocates have until July to collect the nearly 400,000 required signatures.
A state “trigger law” made abortion illegal in Arkansas after Roe v. Wade was overturned. A proposed amendment would allow abortion up to 18 weeks with exceptions beyond that point in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or where the pregnant person’s health is threatened. The Arkansas attorney general certified the proposed amendment’s language last month, and Arkansas abortion-rights advocates have begun gathering signatures. Advocates have until early July to collect about 91,000 valid signatures from registered voters.
Although there are no laws restricting abortion in Colorado, reproductive rights groups want to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution through a citizen-initiated amendment. The language of a proposed amendment was approved by state officials in October. In January, proponents began gathering signatures; the just-over 124,000 required signatures must include a certain number from each county in Colorado. Separately, anti-abortion advocates in Colorado are gathering signatures for a ban on all abortions, which would take the form of a state statute, rather than a constitutional amendment.
Late last month, Florida confirmed that advocates had gathered well over the approximately 890,000 signatures required to put a proposed constitutional amendment to recognize a right to abortion on the ballot in that state this coming fall. The proposed amendment says, in part, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” The amendment now faces a challenge from Florida’s attorney general, who argues that the language violates the state’s single subject rules and is not specific enough, including because the meaning of “viability” and “health” are ambiguous. She is asking Florida’s supreme court to strike the amendment from the ballot. The court heard arguments in the case on February 7.
Abortion is currently banned in Missouri, and the path for an abortion-related amendment in the state has so far been a muddled one. Abortion-rights advocates are collecting signatures in support of a ballot initiative that, if included on the ballot and passed by Missouri voters, would amend the state constitution to include a right to make one’s own decision on reproductive care, including abortion. The language of the proposed amendment reportedly involved months of disputes between various abortion-rights groups, which disagreed over how expansive the language could be without jeopardizing the chances of passage in the conservative state. Last year, the state supreme court held that state officials improperly held up approval of the ballot initiative by disputing — without authority to do so — a state auditor assessment of how much an enacted amendment would cost, thus shortening the time proponents have to gather necessary signatures. About 170,000 signatures are needed by early May to get an initiative on the ballot in Missouri.
A former Republican congressional staffer who had been pursuing a separate Missouri initiative that would have allowed more limited abortion care said in January that she is deciding whether to continue gathering signatures for her proposal.
In Nebraska, abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists are trying to get separate ballot initiatives in front of voters in the 2024 election. The abortion-rights groups are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow abortion up to “viability,” while the anti-abortion side would prohibit abortion drugs and procedures except in cases to preserve the life of the mother. The groups have until July to gather approximately 122,000 signatures. Abortion is currently legal in Nebraska up to 12 weeks.
South Dakota’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow abortion in the first trimester for any reason; in the second trimester, the procedure would only be allowed to protect the health of the pregnant person. Activists in favor of the amendment say they have surpassed the required 35,017 signatures. Because the amendment does not protect a general right to an abortion after the first trimester, Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights organizations are not supporting the amendment.
In 2021, the Iowa legislature voted in favor of a constitutional amendment stating that, the “constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” For the amendment to become part of the state constitution, the legislature must pass the amendment again in its 2023–2024 session. If it does so, as expected, the amendment would then go to a public vote, this coming fall or later.
Maine lawmakers introduced the Maine Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment in the 2023–2024 legislative session to enshrine a state constitutional right to an abortion. If it passes by a two-thirds majority, it will appear on Maine’s 2024 ballots.
Democratic legislators in Minnesota are weighing whether to attempt to put a legislatively driven constitutional amendment to protect abortion on the ballot. Similarly, there are efforts to expand the state’s Equal Rights Amendment to include protections for reproductive care. It is possible either of the two proposed amendments could be on the 2024 ballot, or perhaps on the 2026 midterm election ballots. Abortion is currently legal in Minnesota, and the goal of either amendment would be to add an additional layer of abortion-rights protections.
After the Montana attorney general blocked a citizen-initiated proposed amendment that would allow people to “make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion,” abortion-rights activists sought state supreme court review. They asked the court in late January to declare they have met the language and statutory requirements to move forward with the initiative and to direct the attorney general to forward the required ballot documents to the secretary of state, which is the next step in the process for approval. If the court directs the attorney general to repeal his block of the initiative, proponents can begin collecting signatures.
In Nevada, abortion-rights advocates filed proposed language with the secretary of state in September for a state constitutional amendment protecting reproductive freedom. Anti-abortion advocates sued over the language of the amendment, and a state district court judge held that it did not meet the requirement that it involve only a “single subject.” Proponents of the amendment have simultaneously appealed that decision to the state supreme court and drafted a new amendment with narrower language. The same judge recently ruled advocates could begin gathering signatures for the amendment with the new language. Supporters must gather just over 100,000 signatures by June.
Nevada has an unusual process to approve a constitutional amendment: voters must vote in favor of any change in two consecutive election cycles before the amendment can become part of the constitution. So even if abortion-rights activists succeed in getting a proposed amendment protecting abortion right on the ballot in 2024, it would need to be approved both this year and in 2026 in order to be adopted.
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The process to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is a rocky and expensive one, making it difficult to predict how many states will have abortion-related measures on the ballot in 2024. But because access to abortion varies significantly across the country, state constitutional amendments protecting the right to reproductive care, if approved, would not only bring a level of permanence to abortion rights in those states, but also help clarify the availability of abortion access nationwide.
The political implications also go beyond abortion. Both parties hope proposed abortion amendments will increase turnout for their respective bases, boosting chances of prevailing not only in the presidential election, but in elections up and down the ballot.
Erin Geiger Smith is a writer and editor at the Brennan Center for Justice.