Kentucky voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution to explicitly say it does not protect a right to abortion, NBC News projects.
At the polls, voters were asked whether they were in favor of adding a new section in the state constitution that states: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
With 96% of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, 47.5% of voters said yes and 52.5% said no.
It is a major victory for advocates of abortion rights, who are challenging the state’s “trigger laws” that went into effect over the summer, effectively outlawing abortion, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
It would have been nearly impossible to restore abortion access in Kentucky through legal pathways if the measure had passed, said Rachel Sweet, a campaign manager for Protect Kentucky Access, which opposed the referendum.
“This is a historic win for the people of Kentucky," Sweet said in a statement early Wednesday morning. "Kentuckians have spoken, and politicians in Frankfort will have to listen.”
Now that the measure has failed, it leaves open the possibility that pro-abortion litigation could prevail in courts.
More significantly, the Kentucky Supreme Court could take its cue from voters when it hears oral arguments on the matter scheduled for next week, said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, who specializes in elections and voting.
Kentucky is among five states with ballot measures on abortion. As of early Wednesday, voters in California, Vermont and Michigan have voted to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions.
The referendums come more than four months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, the landmark ruling that had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.
In reversing the half-century precedent, the court left the power to limit or grant abortion rights to the states. That triggered one ballot measure on abortion in Kansas over the summer, and five more this fall.
That is the highest number of abortion-related ballot propositions in a single year, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.