Thousands of officials will shape whether people can exercise their reproductive rights, and at what risk. We walk through what you should be watching, in nine questions.

By Daniel Nichanian, Bolts

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protections for abortion, exhortations to vote have been deafening. But those calls can feel trite when they’re severed from a precise accounting of why it matters who holds power, or from the recognition that the usual paths to electoral change are blocked in many states. A bewildering patchwork of public officials will now have a greater say on who can exercise their reproductive freedom, and at what risk—there are thousands of prosecutors, sheriffs, lawmakers, judges on the ballot just this fall—and for many citizens, the sheer scale of that mosaic can feel paralyzing.

Protestors hold signs at a Texas abortion rights rally

This guide walks you through how concretely the 2022 midterms will shape abortion access.

We identify nine questions that state and local elections will decide, and the critical battles that will help answer them. The guide successively covers the meaning of state constitutions, the viability of new laws, and matters of law enforcement.

This guide is just one small slice. The elections mentioned, which cover twenty states, are by no means exhaustive: There are many other races playing out along similar lines for offices that will wield power over these issues for years to come. Still, we hope to give you a taste of the enormous range of powers held by state and local officials, and some of the ways that candidates on all sides are getting creative in how they’d use these in the wake of the Dobbs decision. What are the candidates running for prosecutor saying in your county, if there’s an election? What about those running for sheriff and attorney general, governor and judge? The very need to ask these questions underscores the magnitude of the loss of federal protections, though local and state conflicts over the issue are by no means new; and that means many candidates already have long histories and some creative ideas when it comes to how they will approach abortion access.

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