For the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving it to states to determine abortion access, the issue appeared on a state ballot. In Kansas,to the state constitution that would eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion has been defeated.
The Kansas ballot initiative is seen as a bellwether for the impact of abortion on the midterm November elections.
Since the high court's ruling ending the federal right to an abortion, at least 12 states have either banned abortion outright or after six weeks of pregnancy. Other states are also expected to move forward with further restrictions.
In Kansas, voters reaffirmed abortion is constitutionally protected, leaving in place a 2019 decision by the state Supreme Court. That ruling stated that a person has the right to personal autonomy and applied strict scrutiny to regulating abortion. The Kansas legislature would not be able to ban or enact further restrictions on abortion without a constitutional amendment.
"Kansans stood up for fundamental rights today. We rejected divisive legislation that jeopardized our economic future & put women's health care access at risk," tweeted Kansas' Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. "Together, we'll continue to make incredible strides to make KS the best state in the nation to live freely & do business."
President Biden issued a statement saying in part that, "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. Congress should listen to the will of the American people and restore the protections of Roe as federal law."
The "Value Them Both" Amendment made it onto the Aug. 2 primary ballot after being passed in the Republican-controlled state legislature with two-thirds of the vote in both chambers in 2021.
"While the outcome is not what we hoped, our movement and campaign have proven our resolve and commitment. We will not abandon women and babies," said the Value Them Both Coalition, which supported the amendment, in a statement. The group went on to call the outcome a "temporary setback."
While passage of the amendment would not have directly banned abortion in the state, legal experts said it would have paved the way for the state legislature, where Republicans hold a super majority, to ban abortion.
"Under the language of the amendment, it would be possible to adopt a total ban on abortion from the point of conception until birth, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life or health of the mother," said Richard Levy, a professor of law at the University of Kansas.
Leading up to the primary, groups for and against the amendment were engaged in an aggressive campaign to reach voters, knocking on doors, phone banking and holding rallies. Nearly $13 million was spent on ads in the state on the issue of abortion ahead of the vote, according to AdImpact.
"This historic victory was the result of a groundswell of grassroots support and a broad coalition of reasonable, thoughtful Kansans across the state who put health care over politics," said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, of the amendment's defeat. "We have seen the devastation caused by a loss of access to abortion in neighboring states and tonight, Kansans saw through the deception of anti-abortion interests to ensure people in their state retained their rights."
Although this was an off-year primary, where turnout is generally very low — in past recent elections less than a third of voters turned out to cast their ballots — Kansas' early voting surged ahead of the Aug. 2 primary, suggesting voters were highly motivated by the issue of abortion.
Unofficial results Tuesday night from the Kansas Secretary of State's office showed more than 781,500 people voted on the amendment in the state. With 90% of the vote counted as of 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, "No" led with 60.4% to "Yes" at 39.6%
Overall, party officials and politicians are keeping a close eye on how the overturning of Roe v. Wade could galvanize voters ahead of the midterms. According to the, abortion is as an important an issue as the economy and inflation to women under 50. More than two-thirds of women under 50 describe the Republican party as "extreme." But Democrats appear to be disappointed with how their party is handling the issue of abortion. Fifty-nine percent said their party was not doing enough to protect access, whereas the majority of Republicans believe their party is taking the right approach on abortion.
Kansas is the first state in a handful in which voters will have their say on abortion rights in the midterms. Similar measures to the Kansas effort are on the ballots in Kentucky and Montana, while initiatives adding abortion protections to the state constitutions are on the ballots in California and Vermont. Efforts to amend the constitution to protect the right to an aborotion in Michigan are also underway.
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