In the first major election since Roe v. Wade was overturned, voters in five states largely chose to protect abortion rights — marking a push, even in red states, to keep abortion access on the table.

The results in California, Michigan, Vermont, Montana and Kentucky began to make some traction on abortion advocates’ efforts to protect reproductive rights. 

For healthcare marketers, that will mean ripple effects on how they craft messaging around contraception and abortion medication — an area of marketing that continues to be tied to policy.

But other healthcare issues — like Medicaid expansion, recreational marijuana and medical debt — will also see some repercussions in the aftermath of the elections. Additionally, one of the lesser-talked-about items — a measure that would declare healthcare a human right in Oregon — may have even wider implications if it’s passed.

Voters codified reproductive rights in Vermont, where it became the first state to officially enshrine abortion rights into its constitution. More than three-quarters of voters supported that measure, according to The New York Times’ election tracker.

In Michigan, 56% of voters supported a proposal that would create a constitutional right to abortion and contraception. 

Montana voters, meanwhile, voted against the so-called “born alive” law, which would require healthcare providers to provide resuscitative care to infants born prematurely or those who survive abortion. Despite historically being a red state, more than 52% of Montana voters opposed the proposal.

More than 60% of Californians voted for an amendment that would also protect reproductive freedom. In Kentucky, 52% of people voted against an amendment that would say there is no right to abortion in the state constitution.

While abortion rights may be protected in those five states for now, abortion remains illegal in a quarter of the U.S. — across 13 states — and half of all states have made some moves to restrict abortion in recent months. 

In addition, access to birth control continues to be limited in certain situations — and marketers in the contraception industry are aiming to continue developing messaging that can help boost access.

“While we’re happy there wasn’t a complete rebuke of reproductive healthcare, deeply important reproductive rights and healthcare access will still be at risk in many states — Texas and Florida are two of our biggest for birth control,” Caroline Hofmann, Head of Emerging Businesses at Thirty Madison, said. “Now that the election is over we’ll focus on protecting contraception from access barriers and misinformation, by providing the same access to healthcare services that people deserve.”

Maryland and Missouri both voted to legalize recreational marijuana on Tuesday, while marijuana proposals in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota were rejected. Maryland and Missouri now join a total of 21 states that allow recreational marijuana.

In a previous interview with MM+M, Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, noted that as marijuana becomes legal in more places, healthcare marketers will play a crucial role in informing consumers and facilitating their comfort levels. That means having a clear understanding of the law in their respective states.

Medical marketers need to “know and understand what the current law is and to help communicate that message to our public and help to build trust as well as support,” Wright said.

While abortion commanded most of the electoral attention this year, a quieter proposal in Oregon spells out an interesting philosophical question: Should affordable healthcare be considered a human right? The proposed legislation would require the state of Oregon to make sure every resident has access to “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable healthcare.”

Opponents of the bill, most of whom are Republican, argued that the state would have no funding or system to “deliver on that promise,” Republican State Senator Fred Girod previously stated.

Oregon has historically spurred trends on the healthcare front for blue states — such as being the first to legalize the Death with Dignity Act for terminally ill people — as well as the first to become a sanctuary state to undocumented immigrants.

As of Wednesday afternoon, votes on the Oregon measure were too early to call. But whether it’s passed could have wider ripple effects on how U.S. states view their obligation to residents when it comes to healthcare access.

“Policy may be set in Washington, but the process is determined near your home,” Bashe said. “In South Dakota, where the Republican-controlled state resisted Medicaid expansion for years, voters now consider providing essential care a right.”

“Just as people selectively choose medical plans to address personal care needs, some move to blue or red states to support medical needs and life choices,” Bashe continued. “If the federal government can’t develop bipartisan policies that address people’s needs, state government officials are taking hold of the wheel. While Oregon voters are divided on measures to add training requirements for gun buyers and make affordable health care a human right, there is a bigger picture. The public opinion wheel is in motion. Regardless of the voter outcome, what happens in Oregon is the new standard for state-by-state policy, and the health industry needs to have a point of view.”