The Kansas City Star reports, ‘No’ prevails: Kansas votes to protect abortion rights in state constitution

The right to an abortion will remain in the Kansas Constitution.

In the first ballot test of abortion rights in a post-Roe America, Kansas voters turned out in historic numbers to overwhelmingly reject a constitutional amendment that would have opened the door for state lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortions across the state.

The Associated Press called the race at 9:40 p.m central. The vote “no” campaign led 59 % to 41 % after all precincts in the state had reported.

Note: The vote is consistent with national polling on the support for access to abortion. Pew Research Center: About six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases: “Today, a 61% majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.” (June 13, 2022)

The vote stands as a major win for abortion rights advocates, preserving access in a red state as the procedure is banned or severely restricted in much of the region. It wasn’t just urban counties, like Democratic-leaning Wyandotte County, that turned out to protect abortion rights. Rural counties like Osage, Franklin and Lyon also favored vote “no” by significant margins.

Shortly after 10 p.m., Iman Alsaden, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said she was still processing the vote.

“I am sort of speechless. I’m so proud to be a provider in this community. I’m so proud that I get to serve this community. I moved here two years ago from Chicago with the intention of providing abortion care in a place where there were not a lot of providers,” Alsaden said. “It’s sort of unbelievable. I’m so proud to be able go to work tomorrow and talk to my staff and give everyone a hug.”

The vote upholds 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that, in response to an attempt to ban a common second trimester abortion procedure, said Kansans had a right to bodily autonomy and therefore the right to terminate a pregnancy.

The movement against the amendment succeeded in turning a wide swath of no voters out, despite the amendment’s placement on a primary ballot many assumed would favor conservatives because of the greater number of GOP primaries. They were able to keep margins to stay competitive in rural counties, keeping the loss margin in western Kansas smaller than anticipated.

Secretary of State Scott Schwab said early in the evening that anecdotal evidence indicated the turnout could match the 2008 presidential race— 63.3%.

More than $12 million was poured into the 20-month campaign.

The race drew national eyes as a potential bellwether for how voters in a Republican state would respond to the abortion question once federally protected rights are gone.

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“I think the Dobbs decision definitely felt like a gut punch to a lot of folks in our community and I know it did for me for sure. But once we caught our breath, we stood up straight, we got to work,” U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, told a crowd at a “vote no” watch party early in the night.

As Kansas’ neighbors, Oklahoma and Missouri, promptly banned abortion, and then struggled through confusion about the laws, forces on both sides of the issue in Kansas dove into one of the most expensive ballot initiative campaigns in state history.

The coalition against the amendment won over voters in the red state with messaging that appealed to libertarian sensibilities – warning about government control over private health care decisions and future bans on abortion.

In a speech after the victory was announced Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, highlighted the focus on non-partisan campaigning.

“We did the work of finding common ground,” she said. “We got Kansas to have that conversation.”

[T]he amendment proved to be a major driving force for primary voters, and many didn’t buy the “vote yes” campaign’s message.

Voters outside an Olathe polling place last week cited the amendment as the most important issue on the ballot.

23-year-old Sarah Heckman arrived to vote “no” with her mother. The 23-year-old said she normally doesn’t vote in primaries but this vote was different. “It sets a precedent for the rest of the nation,” she said.

Even in traditionally red, rural counties “no” voters turned out. In central Kansas’ Chase County 527 of 1,093 voters opted to reject the amendment. In Western Meade and Trego counties, “no” votes commanded about 30% of the vote.

The race was watched closely by national organizations on both sides of the issue, and in the political arena.

Kansas’ commanding rejection of the amendment may serve as an indication that abortion rights will be winning issue for Democrats this November and turn the tide on what was expected to be a Republican wave.

Note: The Dobbs decision has awakened the largest voting block in America, women. The vast majority of women support access to abortion and access to contraception. For almost 50 years, women have had the right to reproductive choice to make decisions over their own body. The individual liberty interests Americans have in sex, marriage and family planning are the most personal and private decisions Americans can make. It is between them and their conscience. It is not for some goddamn politicians to insert themselves into the process and to decide for them.

Republicans have long claimed that they are the party of individual liberty. Bullshit!  Republicans have become authoritarian religious zealots who want to impose their orthodoxy on everyone else. They are now the American Taliban. The Dobbs decision and the women’s vote may prove decisive in close congressional races, and in races for state offices and legislatures across the country. Dobbs may backfire on Republicans.

Constitutional Amendments to state constitutions for equal rights for women and to protect access to safe, legal abortions will be the wave of the future.

In a statement, President Joe Biden used the results to call on Congress to codify Roe into federal law.

“This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions,” he said.

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The amendment’s failure ensures that, at least for now, Kansas will be an access point for abortion in the Great Plains.

Only four clinics operate in the state currently, two in Wichita and two in Overland Park. But the state has long been among the easiest options for Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas clinics have seen increased call volumes since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe as access to the procedure across the region narrows. But it’s unclear at this point whether clinics will expand to accommodate more out of state patients.

In a statement Trust Women, a Wichita abortion clinic, celebrated the vote and said they would prioritize providing care to women across the region and work to “expand and restore meaningful access to local abortions for all Kansans.”

“We cannot be content with the status quo. The loss of Roe has brought with it an unprecedented and manufactured health care crisis that is not solved by this election, but will significantly impact the state of reproductive health care across our region for years to come,” the statement said.

Emily Wales, president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, applauded Kansans for putting “health care over politics.”

“Now, more than ever, our work continues. Planned Parenthood Great Plains has served Kansas for decades and tomorrow, we’ll wake up and do just that – but with the reassurance that people in Kansas will continue to make medical decisions that are best for their health, their lives, and their futures,” Wales said in a statement.

The American Taliban will now turn to ousting judges as a pathway to overturning the 2019 decision.

“I certainly think there’s a pathway with a different composition of judges,” said Elizabeth Kirk, director for the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University. “It could be overturned if a future court thought that nothing in the 1859 state constitution included a right to abortion.”

Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, said that effort could begin as early as November.

The majority of the Kansas Supreme Court is currently made up of justices appointed by Democratic governors. But all but one of those justices is up for retention this year.

“If the amendment fails the other way to ban abortion in Kansas is change who’s on the supreme court,” Miller said. “There’s another opening for conservatives this year.”

If abortion rights advocates sue to overturn Kansas’ anti-abortion laws, as the primary “vote yes” campaign predicted, years of litigation lay ahead.

Otherwise, Republcian lawmakers will likely seek ways around the 2019 decision. And anti-abortion activists could try as soon as January to persuade a supermajority of lawmakers to place the amendment back on the ballot.

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said in an interview last month that the state will have to find a way to regulate abortion as much as possible.

Kansas currently heavily restricts abortion but advocates of the amendment have argued existing laws could be overturned under the 2019 ruling.

But abortion rights advocates also say their fight isn’t over.

Sonja Kudulis, 24, of Overland Park, went door to door in the KC metro last weekend and was intimidated at first. But she said “even people who didn’t agree too much (with us) were happy to talk one-on-one” about the issue.

She will feel “relief and excitement. But let’s celebrate for a couple of days and get back to work,” said the copywriter.