By JOHN HANNA and MARGARET STAFFORD – Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas voters sent a resounding 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 lift the restrictions. tighten or ban the procedure outright.
It was the first test of voter sentiment after the US Supreme Court decision in June that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, yielding an unexpected result with potential implications for the upcoming midterm elections.
Though it was only one state, the high turnout for an August primary that typically favors Republicans was a big win for abortion rights advocates and offered a glimmer of hope for Democrats across the country looking for a game-changer during an election year that was otherwise was full of obscure omens for their prospects in November.
It also issued a warning to Republicans who had celebrated the Supreme Court ruling and quickly moved to ban or near-ban abortions in nearly half of the states.
“Kansans flatly rejected the efforts of 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 strong rebuke and a pledge of mounting resistance.”
The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution would have added text stating that it does not grant the right to abortion. A 2019 state Supreme Court decision stated that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights, preventing a ban and potentially thwarting legislative efforts to impose new restrictions.
The referendum was closely monitored as a barometer of the anger of liberal and moderate voters over the Supreme Court ruling abolishing the nationwide right to abortion.
The measure’s failure was also significant because of Kansas’s connections with anti-abortion activists. Anti-abortion “Summer of Mercy” 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 was one of the few in the US known to have abortions late in pregnancy, 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 that they wanted to make sure it took focus, though others saw it as an obvious attempt to increase their chances of winning. . Twice as many Republicans as Democrats voted in the August primaries in the decade leading up to Tuesday’s election.
The electorate on Tuesday’s vote was not typical of a Kansas primary, especially as tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters cast their ballots.
Kansas Republican Party chairman Mike Kuckelman said opponents of the proposed amendment effectively portrayed it as a ban. But he predicted that Kansas will become an abortion destination, and voters won’t stand for it.
“This issue will come up again,” he said during an interview on KSNT-TV.
Kristy Winter, 52, a Kansas City area teacher and unaffiliated voter, voted against the measure and took her 16-year-old daughter to her polling station.
“I want her to have the same right to do whatever she thinks is necessary, especially in the case of rape or incest,” she said. “I want her to have the same rights that my mother had for most of her life.”
Opponents of the measure predicted that the anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would quickly push for an abortion ban if voters approved it. Before the vote, supporters of the measure declined to say whether they would pursue a ban, appealing to voters who supported both some restrictions and some access to abortion.
Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old Kansas City school nurse and a Democrat, said she voted for the measure because she is a Christian and believes life begins at conception.
“I’m not full that there should never be an abortion,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies, and when the mother’s life is in danger, there is no reason for two people to die.”
An anonymous group sent a misleading text to voters in Kansas on Monday telling them to “vote yes” to protect the choice, but it was suspended late Monday from the Twilio messaging platform it used, a spokesman said. Twilio has not identified the sender.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 decision to protect abortion rights blocked a law banning the most common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations on abortion providers has also been put on hold. Opponents of abortion argued that all existing state restrictions were in jeopardy, although some legal scholars found that argument dubious. Kansas does not ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.
The Kansas vote is the start of what could be a long-running series of legal battles, with lawmakers being more conservative on abortion than governors or state courts. Kentucky will vote in November on whether or not to add a language similar to Kansas to the state constitution.
Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to include a provision on abortion rights in the constitution. A similar question is likely going to vote in Michigan in November.
In Kansas, the two sides together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were major donors to the ‘no’ side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the ‘yes’ campaign.
The state has had a strong anti-abortion majority in its legislature for 30 years, but voters have regularly elected Democratic governors, including Laura Kelly in 2018. She opposed the proposed change, saying that changing the state’s constitution would “turn the state back into would throw the dark”. ages.”
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican hoping to exonerate Kelly, supported the proposed constitutional amendment. He told Catholic television channel EWTN before the election that “there is still room for progress” in reducing abortions, without clarifying what he would sign as governor.
While abortion opponents pushed for new restrictions almost every year until the 2019 Supreme Court ruling, they felt constrained by past court rulings and Democratic governors like Kelly.
Stafford reported from Overland Park and Olathe.
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For AP’s full coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, visit https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.
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