Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

A win for Abortion Rights: Elections in Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia


On November 7, 2023, abortion rights advocates scored major wins in Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia. These elections tested voters’ stance on abortion more than a year after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade. 

In the ruby-red state of Kentucky, popular Democratic incumbent Governor Andy Beshear was up for reelection. His challenger was rising Republican star Daniel Cameron. Cameron is the state’s attorney general and a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cameron attacked Beshear on many of his stances—such as his position on abortion and his veto of a bill intended to restrict the rights of transgender youth. Cameron also tied Beshear to President Joe Biden, who is facing low approval nationally. However, on Tuesday, Beshear came out on top with 52.5% to Cameron’s 47.5%. 

Cameron’s attacks may have won votes in a Republican-favoring state, but they proved inadequate to override Beshear’s popularity with Kentuckians. Beshear was also clever with his campaigning. He criticized Cameron’s stance on abortion. He highlighted Cameron’s position in favor of a near-total abortion ban, with few exceptions. This was key since Kentucky had voted a year ago to reject a ballot measure that would deny any constitutional protections for abortion in the state. Andy Beshear’s victory marks a win for abortion rights in the state of Kentucky.

Beshear is a one-term governor, previously elected in 2019 against then-incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin. Bevin was a hugely unpopular candidate yet Beshear’s margin of victory was a slim 0.4%. This year Beshear went against a supposedly strong candidate and won by a whopping 5%, flipping eight counties in the process. The jump in the victory percentage is indicative of Beshear’s popularity and the public’s approval of his stance on abortion.

Sofie Farmer, a student at Vanderbilt from Kentucky, expressed joy over the news. “I’m thrilled about Andy’s win,” Farmer said. “The race was not close, and I think that’s a real testament to the great work he’s done for the state. He did an amazing job handling the floods in eastern Kentucky, the tornado in western Kentucky, and the COVID-19 response during his term. He’s brought a surge of jobs and growth to our economy. Additionally, he cares about the rights of his constituents. His re-election gives me hope for the state and that we will continue moving forward.”

When asked if she thought this was related to abortion rights, she responded in agreement. “I absolutely think this race is a win for abortion rights in Kentucky,” Farmer said. “Cameron was a staunch proponent of anti-choice and would have signed any abortion restriction bills into law. Beshear’s re-election just shows that limiting reproductive rights is not something the people of Kentucky support.”

North of Kentucky, Ohio also held an election critical for abortion rights. The Buckeye state held two ballot measures, one of which aimed at expanding constitutional rights to guarantee access to abortion. The conservative-leaning state had overwhelming support in favor of this amendment. The ballot measure passed with a clear majority of 56.6%. This comes as a surprise after the state voted for Donald Trump by more than eight percent in both 2016 and 2020.

In the Southeastern US, Virginia held elections for both houses of its state Legislature. The State Assembly–its lower house–was under Republican control. On the other hand, The State Senate–upper house–was under Democratic control. Incumbent Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin needed to flip the State Senate to gain a Republican trifecta in the Old Dominion state. A trifecta would have allowed Younkin to pass a 15-week abortion ban. With every other state in the South having enacted abortion bans, Virginia would have been the last domino to fall. Many Republicans campaigned on their support for Youngkin’s bill and it came back to bite them. Not only did Democrats retain control in the State Senate (21-19), but they also flipped the State Assembly (51-49), effectively blocking any chance Youngkin had at enacting his ban. 

Ellie Chason, a student at Vanderbilt from Virginia was glad to hear this result. “It’s always nice to see democracy in action from where you’re from,” Chason said. “I think the election outcomes will influence next year’s presidential elections and what candidates choose to base their campaigns on to win over the public. As someone who’s lived in Virginia all their life until college, it has been interesting to see how our state politics are having large impacts across the nation. It’s a reminder of how important it is to participate in local and state elections.”

Chason points out that these elections could help predict what the future holds. Next year, elections will be held to decide control of the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, and many other state and local-level positions. Republican opposition to abortion and the resulting losses in 2022 and 2023 may be an indicator of what is in store for 2024. 

Senator JD Vance of Ohio regarded Ohio’s results as a “gut punch” to Republicans and to the broader pro-life movement. He tweeted “we need to understand why we lost this battle so we can win the war.” His tweet shows misgivings about the 2024 election. 

After more than a year after the Dobbs decision, support for abortion rights remains a massive issue for voters. Abortion rights will likely continue to be an important issue, and Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia may prove just a small demonstration of what is to come.

Image Citation: Vigil for Abortion Rights by Miki Jourdan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

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About the Contributor
Shunnar Virani, Senior Editor
Shunnar Virani is a junior from Carrollton, Texas majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Law, History, and Society and minors in European Studies, Digital Fabrication, and Computer Science. His interests are in US political landscape, international law, and electoral politics. In his free time, Shunnar enjoys coding, reading, and writing poetry in Urdu.