In a conservative state with strong ties to the anti-abortion movement, Kansas voters on Tuesday sent a clear message about their desire to protect abortion rights by rejecting a ballot measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to impose more restrictions or outright ban the procedure.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in June, this was the first test of voter sentiment, and it produced an unexpected result that could have implications for the upcoming midterm elections.
Even though it was only one state, the high participation in an August primary that usually favors Republicans was a significant win for proponents of abortion rights. When the majority of the votes had been tallied, they were ahead by around 20 percentage points, and the turnout was about average for a fall governor’s race.
The decision also offered a glimmer of optimism for Democrats throughout the country who were yearning for a game-changer in a campaign year otherwise rife with gloomy predictions for their chances in November.
President Joe Biden stated in a statement, “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the freedom to choose their own health care.”
Biden said, “And, the American people must continue to use their voices to safeguard the right to women’s health care, including abortion,” after urging Congress to “establish the protections of Roe” in federal law.
Republicans who had praised the Supreme Court decision and were working quickly to enact abortion bans or near-bans in almost half the states received a caution from the Kansas vote.
According to Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, “Kansans clearly rejected anti-abortion lawmakers’ ambitions to create a reproductive police state.” The vote today was both a forceful rebuke and a declaration of the growing resistance.
The Kansas Constitution would not give the right to an abortion, according to the proposed amendment’s new phrasing. A 2019 state Supreme Court ruling prevented a ban and could have prevented legislative attempts to pass further limitations by stating that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right protected by the state’s Bill of Rights.
The referendum was keenly monitored as a gauge of the outrage among liberal and centrist voters at the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the right to abortion on demand. If the amendment were to succeed, abortion opponents in Kansas would not specify the legislation they would seek and scoffed at claims that a ban would result.
The decision was “a major disappointment” for the anti-abortion movement, according to Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and she urged anti-abortion politicians to “go on the attack.”
She said, “We must strive tenfold harder to obtain and sustain rights for unborn children and their mothers in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court verdict.”
The fact that Kansas has ties to anti-abortion organizations also contributed to the measure’s rejection. Abortion opponents were encouraged by the anti-abortion “Summer of Mercy” demonstrations of 1991 to win control of the Kansas Republican Party and sway the legislature to the right. They were there because Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in 2009 by an anti-abortion zealot and his clinic was one of the few in the US known to do late-term abortions.
Others viewed it as a clear ploy to increase their chances of winning, but anti-abortion politicians claimed they wanted to ensure it received the attention it deserved. They wanted the vote to fall on the same day as the state’s August primary. In the ten years before to the voting on Tuesday, there were twice as many Republicans as Democrats who cast ballots in the state’s August primary.
The coalition in charge of the vote yes campaign claimed, “This verdict is a momentary setback, and our devoted struggle to value women and newborns is far from done.”
Because tens of thousands of voters who are not associated with any political party cast votes on Tuesday, the electorate was unusual for a Kansas primary.
A teacher from the Kansas City region named Kristy Winter, 52, cast a no vote on the issue and went to the polls with her daughter, 16, in tow.
In particular when it comes to rape or incest, she stated, “I want her to have the same right to do what she believes is necessary.” I want her to have the same freedoms that my mother had for the most of her life.
If voters approved it, proponents of the bill believed that the anti-abortion organizations and legislators sponsoring it would swiftly campaign for a ban on abortion. Before the vote, proponents of the bill pleaded with voters who supported both certain restrictions and limited access to abortion but declining to indicate whether they would seek a ban.
Democrat Stephanie Kostreva, a school nurse in her 40s from the Kansas City region, said she supported the proposal because she is a Christian and thinks life starts at conception.
She remarked, “I’m not fully of the opinion that there should never be an abortion. “I realize there are medical situations, but there is no justification for two people to perish when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.”
A spokeswoman for the Twilio messaging platform said the anonymous organization, which had misinformed Kansas residents to “vote yes” to defend choice, had been suspended as of late Monday. Twilio didn’t reveal who sent the message.
A bill that prohibited the most frequent second-trimester procedure was stopped by the 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision defending abortion rights, and another law that placed additional health requirements on abortion providers was also put on hold. All of the state’s current limits on abortion, according to opponents of the procedure, were said to be in jeopardy, however that claim was disputed by several legal experts. Most abortions are still legal in Kansas until the 22nd week of pregnancy.
The Kansas vote is the first in what might be a protracted sequence of court cases where legislators are more pro-life than governors or state courts. Voters in Kentucky will decide in November whether to change their state constitution to include wording similar to that in Kansas.
Vermont will decide in November whether to include a clause protecting abortion rights in its constitution. In Michigan, a similar item will probably appear on the ballot in November.
In Kansas, more over $14 million was spent on the campaigns by both sides combined. Abortion clinics and pro-abortion organizations contributed significantly to the “no” side, while Catholic dioceses contributed significantly to the “yes” side.
For 30 years, the state’s legislature has had sizable anti-abortion majorities, but voters have consistently chosen Democratic governors, including Laura Kelly in 2018. She opposed the proposed change, claiming that it would “send the state back into the Dark Ages” if the state constitution were changed.
Republican candidate for Kelly’s job, state attorney general Derek Schmidt, backed the proposed constitutional change. Before the election, he stated to the Catholic television network EWTN that there was “still opportunity for advancement” in reducing the number of abortions, but he did not specify what he would sign as governor.
Until the 2019 state Supreme Court decision, abortion opponents sought for additional limits virtually every year, but they felt restricted by earlier court decisions and Democratic governors like Kelly.