TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas voters sent a resounding message on Tuesday about their desire to protect abortion rights, rejecting a ballot measure in a conservative state with deep ties to the anti-abortion movement that would have allowed the Republican-controlled legislature to tighten restrictions or outright ban the procedure.
It was the first test of voter sentiment after the US Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, delivering an unexpected outcome with potential implications for the upcoming midterm elections.
While it was just one state, strong turnout in an August primary that typically favors Republicans was a major victory for abortion rights advocates. With most votes counted, they won by about 20 percentage points, with turnout approaching what is typical for a fall gubernatorial election.
The vote also provided a beacon of hope for Democrats nationwide to turn the tide in an election year otherwise filled with bleak omens for their prospects in November.
“This vote clearly shows 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 decisions,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. .
After calling on Congress to “reinstate Roe’s protections” in federal law, Biden added, “And the American people must continue to use their voices to protect women’s right to health care, including abortion.”
The Kansas vote also provided a wake-up call to Republicans who had celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision and were moving quickly with abortion bans or near-bans in nearly half of the states.
“Kansas has outright rejected attempts by anti-abortion politicians to create a reproductive police state,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. “Today’s vote was a powerful rebuke and promise of growing resistance.”
The Proposed Amendment to the Kansas Constitution would have added language indicating that it does not grant the right to abortion. A 2019 state Supreme Court decision said access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights, preventing a ban and potentially thwarting legislative efforts to pass new restrictions.
The referendum has been closely watched as a barometer of anger among liberal and moderate voters over the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the nation’s abortion rights. In Kansas, abortion opponents did not say what legislation they would pass if the amendment passed and bristled when opponents predicted it would lead to a ban.
Mallory Carroll, spokesperson for the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, described the vote as “a huge disappointment” for the movement and called on anti-abortion candidates to “go on the offensive”. .
She added that after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, “we must work exponentially to obtain and maintain protections for unborn children and their mothers.”
The measure’s failure was also significant because of Kansas’ ties to anti-abortion activists. The “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion protests in 1991 spurred abortion opponents to seize control of the Kansas Republican Party and make the legislature more conservative. They were there because Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was among the few in the United States known to perform late pregnancy abortions, and he was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist.
Anti-abortion lawmakers wanted the vote to coincide with the state’s August primary, arguing they wanted to make sure it got attention, though others saw it as an obvious attempt to boost their chances of winning. Twice as many Republicans as Democrats voted in the state’s August primaries in the decade leading up to Tuesday’s election.
“This result is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to empower women and babies is far from over,” said Pro-Amendment Campaign spokesperson Emily Massey.
The electorate in Tuesday’s vote was not typical of a Kansas primary, particularly because tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters cast ballots.
Kristy Winter, 52, a Kansas City-area teacher and unaffiliated 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 cases of rape or incest,” she said. “I want her to have the same rights my mother had for most of her life.”
Opponents of the measure predicted that the anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would push quickly for an abortion ban if voters approved it. Before the vote, supporters of the measure declined to say whether they would pursue a ban as they appealed to voters who supported both some restrictions and some access to abortion.
Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old Kansas City-area school nurse and Democrat, said she voted in favor of the measure because she is a Christian and believes life begins at conception.
“I’m not convinced there should ever be an abortion,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies, and when the mother’s life is in danger, there’s no reason for two people to die.”
An anonymous group sent a misleading text to Kansas voters on Monday telling them to ‘vote yes’ to protect their choice, but he was suspended Monday night from the Twilio messaging platform he was using, a carrier said. word. Twilio did not identify the sender.
The 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling protecting the right to abortion blocked a law banning the most common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations on abortion providers is also pending. Abortion opponents have argued that all existing state restrictions are in jeopardy, although some legal scholars have found this argument dubious. Kansas does not ban most abortions before the 22nd week of pregnancy.
The Kansas vote is the start of what could be a long series of legal battles where lawmakers are more conservative on abortion than governors or state courts. Kentucky will vote in November on whether to add similar language to Kansas’ proposed amendment to its state constitution.
Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question will likely head into the November ballot in Michigan.
In Kansas, the two sides together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were the main donors on the ‘no’ side, while Catholic dioceses largely funded the ‘yes’ campaign.
The state has had strong anti-abortion majorities in its legislature for 30 years, but voters have consistently elected Democratic governors, including Laura Kelly in 2018. She opposed the proposed amendment, saying the change in the state constitution would “restart the state in the dark”. Age.”
State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican hoping to unseat Kelly, backed the proposed constitutional amendment. He told Catholic broadcaster EWTN ahead of the election that “there is still room for progress” in lowering abortions, without specifying what he would sign as governor.
Although abortion opponents called for new restrictions nearly every year until the state Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling, they felt constrained by previous court rulings and Democratic governors like Kelly.
Stafford reported from Overland Park and Olathe.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna. For more AP coverage on the issue of abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.