Abortion and Elections: Our bodies on the ballot

Lina AbiRafeh
7 min readNov 8, 2022

“It’s my body, I should be fighting.”

— Becca Smith, Pro-choice activist

On November 8 — today! — the US gears up for its midterm elections. This one is a big deal, because our bodies are on the ballot.

We all know that the US Supreme Court took away our rights as American women to decide about our own bodies and lives. We’re still fighting for them because, quite literally, our lives are on the line.

These midterms are a milestone election for American women voters. Take Kentucky, for instance. Voters will have to decide whether or not the state should explicitly ban the rights to abortion, a move that risks cementing the state’s near total ban on the procedure.

Accomplished journalist and my friend and fellow feminist fighter Annette Young, took her show on the road to understand how serious this is. Annette is the host and creator of The 51 Percent on France 24 English, a show about women reshaping their world — the only one of its kind on a global newscaster. Created in 2013, the program looks at ways of promoting equality while challenging the way we think through discussions with guests and via reports from the field. There are also sister shows on France 24 in French, Arabic and Spanish.

I have been on the show with Annette a few times fighting the same fight on different, yet all too similar frontlines. In that episode, I said that there’s a young generation who are leading the charge for change — their needs are non-negotiable, and they are fighting for them. Rights, I said, are not a light switch to flick on and off. And, I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: our demands for equality have clearly not been met because we’re right back to where we started — quite possibly worse off. We have to achieve equality everywhere or we’ll succeed at achieving equality nowhere.

As we gear up for the milestone elections affecting all women across America, Annette Young visited American suburban streets that are now the battlegrounds of abortion rights. Don’t miss watching this critical show in full — what follows is a summary of this important report.

Protect Kentucky Access is a pro-choice coalition dedicated to defeating the ballot initiative in Kentucky that seeks to end the right to an abortion. They’re hoping for “another Kansas,” where voters overwhelmingly defended the right for women in Kansas to choose. Now the pro-life movement is on notice, they say, and there’s hope that people in Kentucky could follow suit.

At the same time, Kentucky has always been a pro-life state, and former Republican Kentucky legislator Addia Wuchner now leads pro-life organization Kentucky Right to Life. Described as the “general” for the pro-life movement, Wuchner gives tips on how to win votes at a pro-life pregnancy council center, arguing that for 49 years women have been duped in conflict with themselves, claiming autonomy over our own bodies.

Lori Broomhead, marketing director at the New Hope Pregnancy Centre, explains that she is a feminist but also pro-life. Personally, my feminism is anchored very strongly in my right to decide about my own body and life — so this bit was particularly challenging to hear.

Joni Jenkins, Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, argues strongly in favor of women’s rights to choose, stating that the consequences of not having access are severe. With Kentucky being one of the poorest states in the US, Jenkins fears that with nowhere to go, the suicide rates of young girls might increase. 20% of women live in poverty and the state is ranked the worst for maternal mortality — with black women already being three times more likely to die during childbirth.

There are grave dangers in denying women safe access to medical procedures, including a skyrocketing maternal death rate. Women will seek abortions no matter what, she explains, and they won’t be safe ones. In other words, women will put their lives at risk to get the procedures they need. Abortion is health care — and it is our right to have it.

Pro-choice activist Katima Smith-Willis puts it strongly: “Roe v. Wade has opened up a door that I don’t think they thought would be open. It’s like opening the door to the abyss, I don’t think they knew what monster was behind that door, but it is a vicious one and it is powerful.”

Other activists have taken to speaking at rallies and sharing their stories. Pro-choice activist and survivor Elizabeth Trebelhorn was raped after Roe v. Wade was overturned. She was able to get the help she needed, but in other circumstances, she might not have had a choice. She would not have known she was pregnant and would have had no option.

“I wish I didn’t have to do this campaign. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but I’m doing this for not only me, but for my daughters,” said Trebelhorn. Campaigning is helping her heal from her own trauma. But at the same time, she is fearful for her daughter and for other girls. “When she starts going for her annual check ups with a doctor and how she forms trust with a medical doctor about her body. I’m afraid of that.”

Also on November 8, Californians will be asked to vote for Proposition 1, the Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom, changing the California Constitution to say that the state cannot deny or interfere with a person’s reproductive freedom and that people have the fundamental right to choose whether or not to have an abortion and whether or not to use contraceptives.

State Governor Gavin Newsom takes it even further — he wants tax revenue to fund the transport and care of women from other states where abortion is no longer possible. With nearly 75% of Californians supporting the amendment, family planning clinics have changed dramatically as many patients are now coming from out of state. California is becoming a “sanctuary state” for women — while other states are becoming less safe. The majority of the state is pro-choice, but still there are anti-abortion clinics offering women free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and information on adoption.

American politics is divided. On one side is the US Supreme Court and its conservative judges acting against women. On the other side is the US Congress with its capacity to introduce national legislation that could protect abortion rights — but it all depends on who will gain power and control both houses on November 8.

If Republicans win control over both houses, what does this mean for abortion rights across the United States? What does this mean for all of us, as American women, to decide what to do with our own bodies?!

Elizabeth Nash from the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank specializing in reproductive rights, reminds us of the risks. If Republicans win, legislation could further restrict abortion access. But at the same time, the surge of new women voters seems to have taken both parties by surprise. No one was expecting abortion to be a leading issue in the campaigns — and yet here we are.

Campaigns are shifting. Democrat campaigns are leaning on abortion rights and Republicans are going two ways — they’re either removing the mention of abortion or they’re clearly stating their support of the ban on abortion.

I spoke with Annette on her experience creating this powerful piece, and here’s what she had to say:

“This was far from easy to film but I am so glad we managed to cover this important story. My fear is that many Americans still don’t understand what is at stake with abortion rights. It is a highly polarizing issue … and a lack of legal continuity between states and the lack of a national approach means even if you’re in California or New York, providing abortion assistance through medication to women in states without abortion, that itself possibly could have massive legal consequences.”

We are at a turning point. Women voters are now getting active, we are now changing who is in power so we can protect abortion rights and the full range of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is our right to do so.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Find out who’s in and who’s running and where they stand. Know what’s at stake in your state.
  2. Find your polling place and VOTE on November 8. We need to not only be at the polls this year, but for years to come.
  3. Get to know these reproductive freedom champions and leaders.
  4. Support organizations providing access to abortions and information to women.
  5. Take a stand in many other ways — in any way at all!
  6. Amplify pro-choice feminist activists, academics, journalists, policymakers, practitioners.
  7. Donate to NARAL Pro-Choice America and to Planned Parenthood and the National Network of Abortion Funds and others!
  8. Do whatever it takes to protect your right — and EVERY WOMAN’S RIGHT — to choose.

Arm up soldiers, it’s going to be a long fight.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com