After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe, state judicial races became even more important for abortion rights groups.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Surrounded by states with abortion bans that took effect after Roe v. Wade was overruled, Illinois is one of the few places in the Midwest where the procedure remains legal.

Abortion rights advocates worry that may not last. At least half a dozen states share their concern, and this year it’s not just state legislatures. Democrats have a supermajority in Illinois, and the governor, who is a Democrat, is expected to win re-election.

Instead, Republicans may be on the verge of controlling the Illinois Supreme Court, where Democrats currently hold a 4-3 majority. Two seats are up for election in November, prompting groups that would normally target other positions to focus their attention and money on judicial campaigns.

“That’s the only thing we’re focused on because whoever gets control of the court will decide whether abortion remains legal in Illinois,” said Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of Personal PAC, an abortion rights group that has backed the two democrats. run for the Supreme Court.

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The same scene is played out in other states with contentious high court races on the ballot this year. After the US Supreme Court beat Rostate judicial races have become even more important to Democratic groups working to protect abortion rights.

“It’s increasingly clear that access is happening at the state level, which puts the court’s role in stark relief,” said Sarah Standiford, director of national campaigns for Planned Parenthood.

Participation by groups in states such as Illinois, Michigan and Ohio is a preview of how high-stakes the normally sleepy judicial race is becoming.

In Illinois, Appellate Court Judge Mary Kay O’Brien is voicing concerns about abortion rights as she runs against Republican Judge Michael Burke in a redrawn district for the seat now held by a retiring Democratic judge.

“Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, women’s freedom of choice in Illinois is at risk,” O’Brien’s recently released ad said.

Meanwhile, the race for the court seat, currently held by a Republican and covering counties northwest of Chicago, pits former Republican Sheriff Mark Curran against Democratic Judge Liz Rochford. Curran touted his opposition to abortion rights when he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate two years ago.

About $97 million was spent on state Supreme Court elections during the 2019-2020 election cycle, according to NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Spending records could be broken this year in states targeted by the right and the left.

One group is the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, which supports access to abortion. He plans to reach voters in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio.

“We had already planned to be involved in those states, but Dobbs heightened our interest and sense of purpose and mission,” said Jake Faleschini, legal director of the state court group, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court. solution.

The importance of the race was underscored recently when the Michigan Supreme Court, where Democratic candidates hold a slim majority, overturned a decision by the state’s certification board and allowed a constitutional amendment securing abortion rights on the November ballot.

While Michigan elections are officially nonpartisan, candidates are nominated by the state’s political parties. Judge Richard Bernstein, who is supported by Democrats and voted with the majority of the court to put the abortion rights amendment on the ballot, is running for re-election, along with Republican Judge Brian Zahra, who voted against it.

The Republican Party also nominated Paul Hudson, while the Democrats nominated Kira Bolden. The top two finishers in the five-candidate race win seats.

“People here in Michigan are angry about the Roe decision. And I think if they’re going to look for a place to exercise their freedom to vote, they’re going to go to the Supreme Court,” said State Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes.

Still, the candidates insist they are not politicians and that the court should be nonpartisan.

Zahra, who has been working since 2011, described the role of justice as “what the law is, not what they think it should be”.

Abortion rights groups are also closely watching Kansas, where six of the Supreme Court’s seven justices face a yes-or-no vote to stay on the bench for another six years.

Two of the six were part of the 6-1 majority that in 2019 declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state Constitution, while three others were appointed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. The sixth judge on the ballot is considered the state’s most conservative member.

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Democrats, moderate Republicans and others fear a quiet effort to remove the courts after Kansas voters in August overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment that would have declared the state’s Constitution does not recognize the right to an abortion. If passed, the Republican-controlled Legislature could significantly limit or ban the procedure.

The state Supreme Court races that abortion rights advocates say they are most concerned about are ones that Republicans have already targeted, but on other issues.

The Republican State Steering Committee said it plans to spend more than $5 million — a record for the group — on Supreme Court races in Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio. Spokesman Andrew Romeo said the group’s focus is on redistricting.

In North Carolina, where abortion remains legal and Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans are trying to flip two seats.

Trey Allen, a Republican hoping to unseat Democratic Judge Sam Erwin IV, whose grandfather presided over the U.S. Senate’s Watergate hearings, accused the court of becoming too partisan.

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“We need judges who will follow the law in every case and put their politics aside,” he said during a recent forum.

Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman has vowed to keep the court “free of any political agenda” as she battles Republican Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz for the seat now held by a retiring Democrat.

Abortion is also likely to play a major role in the technically nonpartisan Kentucky Supreme Court race this fall between longtime state Republican Joe Fisher and incumbent Michelle Keller. Republicans are pushing hard for Fisher, who supported the post-Dobbs “abortion law” and is behind a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

In Ohio, Republicans are trying to retain their 4-3 majority on the court, with two GOP justices defending their seats. The third race pits two incumbent judges — a Republican and a Democrat — against the chief.

An Ohio court is likely to become another abortion battleground after a district judge temporarily blocked a ban that took effect following a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Rhiannon Karns, co-founder and co-executive director of the Ohio Women’s Alliance Action Fund, said her group has been calling and texting voters and will be mailing out information about the judicial races.

“There’s just been so much talk about the federal Supreme Court,” she said. “We need to do more in the states about the influence and power of our state supreme court.”

Associated Press writer Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky and Julie Carr Smith in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.