Kansas votes to preserve abortion rights protections in its constitution


OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Kansas voters have decisively decided not to remove the right to abortion from the state Constitution, according to the Associated Press, a major victory for the abortion rights movement in one of the most conservative US states.

The referendum defeat was the most tangible demonstration yet of a political backlash against the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that protected the right to abortion nationwide. The decisive margin – 59-41%, with around 95% of votes counted – came as a surprise, and after frantic campaigns with both sides pouring millions into advertising and knocking on doors throughout a stifling latest campaign .

“Kansas voters have spoken loud and clear: We will not tolerate extreme abortion bans,” said Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which led efforts to defeat the amendment. .

Ms Sweet told her supporters that the willingness to work across partisan lines and ideological differences helped their team win.

Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas — and abortion rights activists have made explicit appeals to unaffiliated voters and center-right voters. In interviews last week in populous Johnson County, Kansas, a number of voters said they were registered Republicans but opposed the amendment — a dynamic that almost died out. certainly unfolded statewide, given the margin.

“We’re watching the votes come in, we’re seeing the changes in some of the counties where Donald Trump got a huge percentage of the vote, and we’re seeing that just decimated,” said Jo Dee Adelung, 63, a Democrat from Merriam, Kansas, who has been knocking on doors and calling voters in recent weeks.

She said she hoped the result would send a message that voters are “really looking at all the issues and doing what’s right for Kansas and not just toeing party lines.”

Value Them Both, a group leading the Yes vote effort, said on Twitter: “This result is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to empower women and babies is far from over.”

The vote in Kansas, three months before the midterm elections, was the first time U.S. voters have directly weighed in on the abortion issue since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade this summer.

The referendum, watched closely by national figures on both sides of the abortion debate, took on added significance due to Kansas’ location, adjoining states where abortion is already banned in almost all cases. More than $12 million was spent on advertising, split roughly evenly between the two camps. The amendment, if passed, would have removed abortion protections from the state Constitution and cleared the way for lawmakers to ban or restrict abortions.

Before the vote, which coincided with the primary elections, Scott SchwabRepublican Secretary of State predicted that about 36% of Kansas voters would participate, up slightly from the 2020 primary, a presidential election year, although he later said there were signs the turnout would be much higher. His office said the constitutional amendment “increased voter interest in the election”, a feeling palpable on the ground.

“We said after a decision is made in Washington, the spotlight would shift to Kansas,” said David Langford, a retired engineer from Leawood, Kan., who wanted the amendment passed and who contacted Protestant pastors to rally support.

While Kansas is used to voting for governors of both parties, the state almost always backs Republicans for president — Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 was a notable exception. It is a largely white state and many Kansans identify as Christians, with a large evangelical constituency. Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., has long been a hero to many conservative Catholics for his outspoken opposition to abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

The push for an amendment was rooted in a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that struck down some abortion restrictions and found the right to abortion was guaranteed by the state Constitution. The move infuriated Republicans, who had spent years enacting abortion restrictions and campaigning on the issue. They used their supermajorities in the Legislative Assembly last year to place the question on the 2022 ballot.

This state-level fight over abortion limits took on much greater significance after the nation’s top court overturned Roe, opening the door in June for states to move beyond restrictions and ban completely abortions. The Roman Catholic Church and other religious and conservative groups have spent big on backing the amendment, while domestic abortion-rights supporters have poured millions into the race to oppose it. .

Supporters of the amendment had repeatedly said that the amendment itself would not ban abortion, and Republican lawmakers were careful to avoid telegraphing what their legislative plans would be if it passed.

“Voting yes doesn’t mean abortion won’t be allowed, it means we’re going to allow our lawmakers to determine the scope of abortion,” said Mary Jane Muchow of Overland Park, Kansas, who backed the ‘amendment. “I think abortion should be legal, but I think there should be limits.”

If the amendment had passed, however, the question was not whether Republicans would try to use their prevailing legislative majorities to pass new restrictions, but how far they would go to do so. Many Kansans who support abortion rights have said they fear a total or near-total abortion ban will be passed within months.

Abortion is now legal in Kansas up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“I don’t want to become another state that bans all abortions for any reason,” said Barbara Grigar of Overland Park, who identified as a moderate and said she was voting against the amendment. “The choice is every woman’s choice, not the government’s.”

A Pew Research Center survey published last month found that a majority of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and that more than half of adults disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Roe.

Kansas has been at the center of the national abortion debate since at least 1991, when protesters from across the country gathered in Wichita and blocked access to clinics during weeks of heated protests they called the been of mercy.

Sometimes the state has seen violence on the issue. In 1986, a Wichita abortion clinic was attacked with a pipe bomb. In 1993, a woman who opposed abortion shot and injured Dr. George Tiller, one of the few American doctors to perform late-term abortions. In 2009, another anti-abortion activist shot and killed Dr. Tiller at his church in Wichita.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following Roe’s fall, Kansas has become a haven of access to abortion in an area where it is increasingly rare.

Even before the action of the Supreme Court, nearly half of abortions conducted in Kansas involved out-of-state residents. Now Oklahoma and Missouri have banned the procedure in almost all cases, Nebraska may further restrict abortion in the coming months, and women in Arkansas and Texas, where new bans are in place , travel well beyond the borders of their state.

Kansas voters are generally conservative on many issues, but polls before the referendum suggested a close race and balanced public views on abortion. The state is not a political monolith: in addition to its Democratic governor, a majority of Kansas Supreme Court justices have been appointed by Democrats, and Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat, represents suburban Kansas City in Congress. .

Ms. Davids’ district was once a moderate Republican stronghold, but it has been leaning toward Democrats during the last years. His re-election contest in November in a redesigned district could be one of the most competitive home races in the country, and party strategists expect the abortion debate to play a big role in districts. like his, which include swaths of upscale suburbs.

Political strategists have been paying particular attention to turnout in suburban Kansas City and are looking to gauge just how galvanizing abortion is, especially for swing voters and Democrats in a post-Roe environment.

“They’re going to see how to advise their candidates to talk about the issue, they’re going to look at all the political handicaps,” said James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist. “Every campaign consultant, everybody is watching this thing like it’s the Super Bowl.”

As the election approaches, and especially since the Supreme Court decision, the rhetoric on the issue has heated up. Campaign placards on both sides were vandalized, police officials and activists said. In the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, vandals targeted a Catholic church, defacing a building and a statue of Mary with red paint.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, which coincided with the primary elections, Scott SchwabRepublican Secretary of State predicted that about 36% of Kansas voters would participate, up slightly from the 2020 primary, a presidential election year. His office said the constitutional amendment “increased voter interest in the election”, a feeling palpable on the ground.

“I love women’s rights,” said Norma Hamilton, a 90-year-old Republican from Lenexa, Kan. Despite registering with the party, she said, she voted no.

Elizabeth Dias contributed report.


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