Kansas voters adamantly protect their access to abortion | Health & Fitness

By JOHN HANNA and MARGARET STAFFORD Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas voters sent a strong message 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 ban the procedure altogether.

It was the first test of voter sentiment after the decision of the US Supreme Court. in June that struck down the constitutional right to abortion, providing an unexpected result with possible implications for the upcoming midterm elections.

While it was just one state, the large turnout in the August primary that generally favors Republicans was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates. With most votes counted, they prevailed by about 20 percentage points, and the turnout was close to what is typical in a fall gubernatorial election.

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The vote also provided a modicum of hope for Democrats across the country seeking a game changer during an election year filled with dark omens for their prospects in November.

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

After calling on Congress to “restore Roe protections” into 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 warning to Republicans who had celebrated the Supreme Court ruling and were moving quickly with abortion bans or near-bans in nearly half the states.

“Kansasians bluntly 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 from the growing resistance.”

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the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution would have added a text stating that it does not grant the right to abortion. A 2019 State Supreme Court Decision declared that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state Bill of Rights, avoiding a ban and potentially frustrating legislative efforts to enact new restrictions.

The referendum was closely watched as a barometer of anger among liberal and moderate voters over the Supreme Court ruling that struck down abortion rights across the country. In Kansas, abortion opponents did not say what legislation they would pursue if the amendment passed and were furious when opponents predicted it would lead to a ban.

Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman 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.”

He added that after the US Supreme Court ruling, “We must work exponentially harder to achieve and maintain the protection of unborn children and their mothers.”

The measure’s failure was also significant because of Kansas’ connections to anti-abortion activists. The “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion protests in 1991 inspired abortion opponents to take over the Kansas Republican Party and make the Legislature more conservative. They were there because Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was one of the few in the US that performed late-pregnancy abortions, and he was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist.

Anti-abortion lawmakers wanted the vote to coincide with the August state primary, arguing they wanted to make sure it garnered attention, though others saw it as an obvious attempt to increase their chances of winning. Twice as many Republicans as Democrats voted in August state primaries in the decade leading up to Tuesday’s election.

“This result is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over,” said Emily Massey, spokeswoman for the campaign for the amendment.

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The electorate in Tuesday’s vote was not typical of a Kansas primary, particularly as 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 to the polls.

“I want her to have the same right to do what she thinks is necessary, especially in the case of rape or incest,” he said. “I want her to have the same rights that my mother has had for most of her life.”

Opponents of the measure predicted that anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would quickly push to ban abortion if voters approved it. Before the vote, the measure supporters 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’m not entirely convinced that there should never be an abortion,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies, and when the life of the mother is in danger there is no reason for two people to die.”

An anonymous group sent a misleading text Monday to Kansas voters telling them to “vote yes” to protect their election, but was suspended Monday night from the Twilio messaging platform it was using, a spokesman said. Twilio did not identify the sender.

The 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights blocked a law that banned the more common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations for abortion providers is also on hold. Abortion opponents argued that all existing state restrictions were in jeopardy, though some legal scholars found that argument dubious. Kansas does not prohibit most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.

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The Kansas vote is the start of what could be a long series of legal battles in which lawmakers are more conservative on abortion than governors or state courts. Kentucky will vote in November on whether to add language similar to Kansas’s proposed amendment to its state constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion right provision to its constitution. A similar question is likely heading to the November ballot in Michigan.

In Kansas, both sides together 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 financed 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 into Darkness”. Centuries.”

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican who hoped to unseat Kelly, supported the proposed constitutional amendment. He told Catholic television network EWTN before the election that “there is still room for progress” in curbing abortions, without specifying what he would sign as governor.

Although abortion opponents pushed for new restrictions nearly every year until the 2019 state Supreme Court ruling, they felt held back 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 abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.

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