Leah Martin ended up in the emergency room “because of the immense stress” of being denied an abortion in her US state of Kentucky.

Because of that “horrible” experience, she is now going door-to-door against a state ballot initiative that would cement Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban.

Scott Van Neste, a pastor, strongly opposes the procedure. Surrounded by her eight children, Van Neste began attending protests to protect the state’s anti-abortion law.

Surprisingly, the two have something in common: they are new to the militant sphere.

Newfound activism may be a wildcard as American voters cast their ballots on Nov. 8 in a variety of national, state and local races as well as hot ballot initiatives.

Since the Supreme Court in June struck down the constitutional right to abortion and restored states’ ability to ban the procedure, the issue has become a major issue in the polls.

Only four states have decided to hold referenda exclusively on abortion, decoupling the issue from platforms and political parties, and opening the door for less politicized citizens to get involved in what is, for them, a matter of “values”.

For Martin, it’s a personal matter.

An abortion rights volunteer prepares pamphlets with information before canvassing in Lexington, Kentucky on October 1, 2022

Stefani Reynolds

In June, the 35-year-old woman and her husband learned with joy that they were expecting a second child. Unfortunately, at 12 weeks of pregnancy, the doctors detected a chromosomal abnormality.

“He was 100% certain that the baby would not live longer than 10 months at the most,” she told AFP.

The news came after the Supreme Court ruling, and Kentucky’s conservative state legislature had just banned abortions.

“My doctors were crying with me… but basically said, ‘Hey, we can’t help you. With Kentucky’s abortion ban, you have to go to another state,'” Martin said.

Martin said she ultimately ended up in the emergency room “because of the immense stress and panic I put on my body upon receiving this news.”

But then came what she calls a “senseless miracle,” a week-long period “when a judge lifted Kentucky’s abortion ban. And so I was able to receive the care I needed”.

To overcome her trauma, Martin, a marketing executive for whom politics has always been “a private matter”, decided to get involved in the referendum campaign, going door to door in her hometown of Lexington.

“It’s not in my nature to knock on doors… But some things are just too important,” Martin said as she approached a stately home.

A stone’s throw away, Molly Kimbrell, 61, is also trying her hand at canvassing.

Molly Kimbrell calls for abortion rights on October 1, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky

Stefani Reynolds

“Politics aren’t my thing. But problems are,” said Kimbrell, a nurse who had an abortion at age 14 because of a “stupid childhood mistake.”

Expressing outrage that women no longer had that option, she decided to “get off the couch” and try to persuade voters.

Showing similar resolve but from a different angle, Van Neste, 47, attended a “yes” rally outside the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort on Oct. 1.

He is not used to this type of exercise either: in his whole life, he has demonstrated only once.

But convinced that “all life is precious”, he wanted to defend the law in his state even if it prohibits abortion in cases of incest or rape.

“We wouldn’t want the child to be punished for someone else’s wrongdoing,” he said.

“It’s important to me because I have four children who were adopted,” said Van Neste, a Baptist pastor who doesn’t hesitate to talk about the poll during his sermons.

A 1954 law prohibits churches from sponsoring candidates but does not apply to referenda, said event organizer Addia Wuchner. In the Capitol car park, several buses come from religious organizations.

Abortion opponents pray at a rally in Frankfort, Kentucky on October 1, 2022

Stefani Reynolds

This time, Wuchner says, “there can be this pulpit discussion in churches.”

Abigail Butler, 25, considers herself an independent voter. The theology student has volunteered at ‘crisis centres’ which try to discourage women from having abortions, but she swears she is ‘not an activist, just passionate about the issue’.

A native of Florida, she arranged to register to vote in Kentucky to participate in the referendum.

The challenge is to avoid what happened Aug. 2 in conservative Kansas, where nearly 60% of voters in a high-turnout election rejected an anti-abortion amendment.

The result gave Martin hope, as did his father’s attitude.

“My father is a Republican,” she says, and opposed to abortions. “But watching me go through my experience…I know that on this particular issue he will be voting no in November.”