Kansas votes in first abortion referendum since Roe was overturned

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In a major victory for abortion rights, Kansas voters on Tuesday rejected an effort to strip their state’s abortion protections, sending a decisive message about the popularity of the issue in the first political test since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June.

The overwhelming support for abortion rights in a traditionally conservative state bolsters Democrats’ hopes that the landmark Supreme Court ruling will embolden their voters in a difficult election year for their party. The Kansas vote indicates that abortion is a rousing issue that could affect turnout in the November midterm elections.

The question before voters here was whether abortion protections should be removed from the state constitution. A “yes” vote would allow the Republican-led Kansas legislature to pass future limits on abortion, or ban it outright, at its next session in January. A “no” vote would leave those protections in place.

With 90 percent of votes counted, 60 percent of voters wanted to keep those abortion protections compared to 40 percent who wanted to remove them from the state constitution. Turnout in Tuesday’s primary election far exceeded other contests in recent years, with about 900,000 Kansas voters, according to an Associated Press estimate. That is nearly double the 473,438 who participated in the 2018 primary election.

Abortion rights advocates pointed to his resounding victory here as evidence that Americans are angry at efforts to roll back women’s rights.

“At a time when reproductive freedom is under unprecedented threat across the country, Kansans said loud and clear at the polls, ‘We’ve had enough,’” said Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice. America, in a statement. “In the heartland of America, protecting access to abortion is galvanizing voters like never before.”

2022 Kansas Primary Election Results

Activists on the ground in Kansas, knocking on doors in the sweltering heat and writing thousands of postcards to encourage people to vote, wept and cheered when they learned they had been defeated in the electoral referendum.

“We did it, we did it, I can’t believe it,” said Cassie Woolworth, 57, an Olathe resident, business analyst and volunteer, moving through a crowded ballroom in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. , where abortion rights advocates gathered to view the results Tuesday night.

Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, told the crowd that the vote was “a truly historic day for Kansas and a historic day for America” ​​to applause.

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“Kansans have spoken loud and clear: We will not tolerate extreme abortion bans in our state,” Sweet said.

The Value Them Both coalition, which leads the state’s anti-abortion campaign, called the result a “temporary setback” in a statement on Twitter.

“Our dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over,” the group’s statement said, promising “we will be back.”

Earlier Tuesday, Judge Ellis, 20, and her sister, Jordan Angermuller, 24, were among those who voted “passionately” in favor of abortion rights. The sisters, who voted at a church in Lawrence, Kansas, said they strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose after seeing the struggles of their own mother, who had Jordan at 17 as a single parent and later converted. in nurse.

“She started us early on birth control,” said Angermuller, who works as a waitress in a restaurant. “Just because she had me when she was very young doesn’t mean we think someone shouldn’t have the choice. They always say, ‘Well, if you abort your baby, that baby could grow up to cure cancer.’ Well, the same goes for a young mother who instead of going to school had the baby.”

The anti-abortion movement believes that “women are meant to be parents,” Angermuller continued. “They want us to be barefoot and pregnant all the time. Have no aspirations.”

Ellis, who also works in food service, added: “It definitely feels like we’re going back in time.”

Since the Supreme Court ruling, more than a dozen Republican-led states have moved to ban or further restrict abortion. Abortion is now legal in Kansas in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy, and the state has become a haven for pregnant patients seeking procedures from states with stricter laws, including Texas and Oklahoma.

As voters went to the polls, The Washington Post reported that a Republican-backed group had intentionally sent voters misleading text messages about the language on the ballot. A political action committee led by Tim Huelskamp, ​​a hard-line former Republican congressman from Kansas, paid a tech company to publish texts that said, “Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”

A “yes” vote would have actually removed abortion protections from the state constitution.

Across the state, signs reading “Vote Yes — Value Them Both” or “Stop Prohibition — Vote No” grace green summer lawns. Radio airwaves and social media have been inundated with more than $11 million in advertising spending by interest groups this year, according to reports filed with the Kansas Commission on Government Ethics.

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Why is Kansas a benchmark for abortion rights?

As the sun beat down and the temperature rose to nearly 100 degrees, a family divided over abortion came together to vote at the Lawrence church.

The parents, Richard Balden, 71, a warehouse buyer, and Pamela Balden, 61, a financial analyst, voted “yes.”

But her daughter Emily, 24, a logistics coordinator, was a firm “no” vote. “I believe that everyone has the right to bodily autonomy. … They don’t force you to donate organs, why should they force you to donate your whole body?” she said.

Janice Dearinger, 75, a part-time drug and alcohol counselor in Shawnee, Kansas, voted an early “yes” to the ballot referendum at the Monticello library on Friday.

He said the media and “Vote No” forces had used scare tactics and unfairly portrayed the proposed amendment as an outright ban on abortion; the Value Them Both amendment would have affirmed that “there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas” and would have given the legislature the power to regulate it. Some Kansas lawmakers have previously said they would sponsor bills that say life begins at conception, if the amendment passes.

“If you read what they’re trying to pass, it’s not about banning abortions outright, it’s about limiting the ones that don’t need to be done,” Dearinger said. “They’re not saying you can’t have an abortion at all. That’s what the media wants you to hear.”

Dearinger, a Baptist, has long been against abortion and attended a prayer vigil for the amendment’s passage Monday night at a Baptist church sponsored by Value Them Both, the main proponent group.

“God said ‘I knew you before you were born, I formed you in your mother’s womb, I know every hair on your head.’ That’s why I say yes,” Dearinger said. “That child belongs to God. He has given it to that mother, and if that mother doesn’t love that child, there are many, many people who do. I don’t think you have the right to go without a baby for no reason just because you don’t want to get pregnant.

“It is a very sensitive issue, and I understand it. The bottom line is that he is a human being,” Dearinger said.

Value Them Both argued that the amendment would not mean an outright ban on abortion and is necessary to protect laws that were declared unconstitutional by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution.

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But critics say this position is misleading, pointing to earlier statements by Republican state lawmakers who said they were ready with legislation proposing an outright ban on the procedure by their legislative session in January. Republicans in the state legislature also placed the abortion measure on the ballot as a special election alongside previously scheduled primaries, where, traditionally, only party-affiliated voters can vote. Many of the state’s unaffiliated voters — 29 percent of the electorate — may not know they can vote this time, abortion rights activists argued.

The Supreme Court withdraws a right and inflames the entire country

Kansas has long been a stronghold of anti-abortion activism. During the “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion protests in 1991, thousands of protesters converged on Wichita and were arrested in sit-ins and clinic blockades. In 2009, George Tiller, one of the country’s few third-trimester abortion providers, was assassinated in Wichita by an anti-abortion extremist.

Abortion-rights advocates say the Republican legislature has stacked the cards in their favor, passing tougher restrictions that have made it harder for new voters to register, choosing to vote on a primary day rather than during the general election, and selecting a question on the ballot. with convoluted wording that has confused many voters.

Abortions have increased 13 percent in Kansas in the last two years, according to statistics from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. That has drawn criticism from abortion opponents that the state, led by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, is becoming an abortion “sanctuary” for out-of-state residents seeking the procedure. Much of the increase between 2019 and 2020 was due to short-term coronavirus shutdowns in Oklahoma and Texas, officials said. But preliminary data from 2021 shows that most of the patients were in the state.

However, Trust Women, an abortion clinic in Wichita, saw a 60 percent increase in its out-of-state patients over the past year, according to Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, the clinic’s director of communications, and doubled its overall volume. of patients this year. year compared to the same period last year.

Alice Crites and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

correction

An earlier version of this story misspelled Zack Gingrich-Gaylord’s name. The story has been corrected.