TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas voters on Tuesday protected the right to have an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban them altogether.
Note: The video above is from a previous report
The referendum in the conservative state was the first test of US voter sentiment on abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. It was a major victory for abortion rights advocates after weeks in which many states in the South and Midwest largely banned abortion.
Voters rejected a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have added language stating that it does not grant the right to abortion. A 2019 state Supreme Court ruling declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights, preventing a ban and potentially blocking legislative efforts to enact new restrictions.
The referendum was closely watched as a barometer of anger among liberal and moderate voters over June’s decision to repeal the nation’s right to abortion. The measure’s failure was also significant because of how conservative Kansas is and how twice as many Republicans as Democrats voted in August primaries in the decade leading up to Tuesday night’s tilt.
Kristy Winter, 52, a Kansas City-area teacher and non-voter, voted against the measure and brought her 16-year-old daughter with her to her polling place.
“I want her to have the same right to do what she deems necessary, especially in the case of rape or incest,” she said. “I want her to have the same rights that my mother had most of her life.”
Opponents of the measure predicted that anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would quickly push for an abortion ban if voters approved it. Before the vote, supporters of the measure declined to say whether they would seek a ban as they appealed to voters who supported both some restrictions and some access to abortion.
Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old school nurse from the Kansas City area and a Democrat, said she voted for the measure because she is a Christian and believes life begins at conception.
“I don’t fully agree that abortion should never happen,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies and when the mother’s life is in danger, there is no reason for two people to die.”
An anonymous group sent a misleading message Monday to Kansas voters telling them to “vote yes” to protect the option, but it was suspended late Monday by the Twilio messaging platform it was using, a spokesman said. Twilio did not recognize the sender.
A 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling protecting abortion rights blocked a law that would have banned the more common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations on abortion providers is also pending. Opponents of abortion argued that all existing state restrictions were at risk, although some legal scholars found this argument questionable. Kansas does not prohibit most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.
Supporters of the measure got off to a head start because anti-abortion lawmakers scheduled the vote for primary election day, when in the past 10 years Republicans have voted twice as many as Democrats. But the early voting electorate was more Democratic than usual.
The Kansas vote is the start of a long series of legal battles taking place where lawmakers are more conservative on abortion than governors or state courts. Kentucky will vote in November on whether to add language similar to Kansas’ to its state constitution.
Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question is likely to be asked on the November ballot in Michigan.
In Kansas, both parties combined spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were key donors to the no side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the yes campaign.
The state has had strong anti-abortion majorities in its legislature for 30 years, but voters have regularly elected Democratic governors, including Laura Kelly in 2018. She opposed the proposed amendment, saying changing the state constitution would “throw the state back in the dark ages.”
State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican hoping to unseat Kelly, supported the proposed constitutional amendment. He told Catholic broadcaster EWTN before the election that “there is still room for progress” in reducing abortions, without specifying what he would sign as governor.
Although abortion opponents had pushed for new restrictions almost every year leading up to the state Supreme Court’s 2019 decision, they felt constrained by previous court decisions and Democratic governors like Kelly.
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