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What does the abortion-rights victory in Kansas mean for other states?

If abortion is on the ballot, even deep-red states can turn

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Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts to election returns on an abortion referendum.

Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts to election returns on an abortion referendum at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kan., on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Kansas voters on Tuesday protected the right to get an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban it outright.

Evert Nelson, The Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, the justices sent the issue back to the states. This meant it was now up to state legislatures — and in some cases courts — to determine whether to protect or restrict abortion rights. Some entrepreneurial lawmakers prepared for this day: in 13 states, laws restricting the procedure activated the moment the gavel hit the wood. Many other states also had safety nets in place to keep it legal. 

Now the issue has come to the ballots, where American citizens can decide what route their state should take — and the initial results have been surprising. 

On Tuesday, Kansas voters shut down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have tightened restrictions on the procedure. Kansas didn’t have a trigger law in place when Roe v. Wade was overturned, per The New York Times, but a ruling by the state’s supreme court in 2019 ensured abortion remained legal. State lawmakers, spurred by anti-abortion activists, proposed an amendment for this month’s primaries that would have declared it was not a constitutional right.

By all appearances, Kansas should have adopted the measure. Since 1968, the state has voted red in every presidential election, but nearly 60% of voters said “no” to the amendment, according to data from Ballotpedia. What happened?


Danette Searle, left, and Tricia Baldwin watch results at an election watch party for Value them Both, a group in favor of a constitutional amendment removing abortion protections from the Kansas constitution, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Overland Park, Kan.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

A surprising turnout

A remarkable number of Kansans participated in Tuesday’s primaries. Over 900,000 people — about 47% of eligible voters — showed up at the ballot, according to The Guardian. That’s almost double the turnout of the state’s last primary election in 2018.

One explanation is a campaign led by Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a coalition of abortion-rights advocates and organizations. The group — endorsed by Kansas’ Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and others — raised about $7.4 million. The money helped fund advertisements that framed the vote as an effort to change the state’s constitution and likened it to “strict government mandates” similar to ones requiring face masks.

“This is truly a historic day for Kansas — and for America. We won this historic battle to protect women’s constitutional rights — and we BLOCKED the dangerous anti-abortion amendment,” posted the group on its Facebook page after results were confirmed Tuesday.

Kansans’ success has shown that, if abortion is put on a ballot, the state’s political leaning does not necessarily guarantee the outcome. It poses an opportunity for Democrats in Kentucky and Montana, where the issue will be on the ballot in November’s midterms. Though Kansas suggests Democrats have the edge, the same could be said for Republicans in California and Vermont, who will also be voting on abortion measures.

Dare you to vote

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing Medicare to assist patients who seek out-of-state abortions. Speaking from the White House, Biden said, the Supreme Court “practically dared women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose.”

Republicans, he said, “don’t have a clue about the power of American women.”