life after roe

Kansas Is First State to Vote on Abortion Rights Post-Dobbs

Kansas abortion-rights protesters have their work cut out for them. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP/Shutterstock

There have been tons of polls about abortion rights in the days since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade on June 24 and abundant speculation about how this development will affect the November midterms specifically, and the course of politics generally, going forward. But the first actual ballot test on abortion rights in the post-Dobbs environment will be in Kansas on August 2. Voters in both the Democratic and Republican primaries will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it clear there is no state-based right to an abortion. It would have the effect of striking down a 2019 State Supreme Court decision identifying abortion rights in the existing state constitution’s guarantee of bodily autonomy.

The ballot test was created by Kansas’s Republican-controlled legislature in January, prior to Dobbs but with the expectation that the Supreme Court would soon abolish or seriously modify federal constitutional abortion rights. The legislators also anticipated that turnout patterns for a primary would make passage of the amendment more likely than if the vote were held in conjunction with a higher-turnout general election. Kansas has closed primaries, which typically bar participation by independents. But on August 2, independents showing up at the polls will be able to vote on the constitutional amendment, though not for any races for public office. Whether many of them will exercise this right is one of the hard-to-determine variables affecting the outcome.

The amendment is somewhat misleadingly labeled “Value Them Both” (supposedly meaning women and babies alike) and is benefitting from a heavy investment of organizational resources by national anti-abortion groups (Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has allocated $1.3 million for canvasing in support of the amendment) and Kansas-based Catholic churches, as RealClearPolitics reports:

The Catholic Church has been deeply involved in the Value Them Both campaign, leading prayers during Mass and handing out literature and yard signs. Of the $1.2 million raised for the “Yes” campaign, according to the latest filing in February, $500,000 came from the Archdiocese in Kansas City, Kansas, and another $250,000 from the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. 

As the Kansas Reflector reported, the “No” campaign appears less lavishly funded at present, but an umbrella organization (Kansans for Constitutional Freedom) backed by many Kansas Democrats (including Governor Laura Kelly) and the state’s existing abortion clinics has begun running ads against the amendment:

The coalition’s first commercial warned passage of the amendment would grant politicians power to pass any law regarding abortion, including a total ban without exceptions. Another ad pointed to the oath taken by physicians to “do no harm,” and issues raised when politicians in Topeka would assume authority for medical decisions.

Though Kansas is essentially a Republican state, the GOP has often been divided between moderate and hard-core conservative factions, which is why Democrats have won three of the last five gubernatorial elections. Pro-choice Republicans are not unknown in the Sunflower State (e.g., three-term U.S. senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum), but Kansas is also known for harboring anti-abortion extremism. One of the four existing abortion clinics in the state was founded by Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider who was assassinated in the foyer of his church in 2009; his slogan, “Trust women,” now denotes the clinic and many abortion-rights efforts.

While Kansas has for years been a key abortion battleground, it is particularly significant right now because of its clinics’ proximity to those seeking abortion services in the neighboring states of Missouri and Oklahoma, which have passed near-total abortion bans.

If the Value Them Both amendment passes, there will of course be subsequent legislative and election battles over specific abortion bans. But if it fails, the results will provide solid evidence that, even in red states in a skewed primary landscape, the pro-choice majority that polls keep showing is very real.

There will be at least three more ballot tests on abortion rights in November. California and Vermont are certain to pass measures firmly establishing a state constitutional right to an abortion, while Kentucky, like Kansas, will feature a Republican-sponsored constitutional amendment to cut off any state-sponsored right to choose. Kansas’s results on August 2 will be watched closely by proponents and opponents of reproductive rights everywhere.

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Kansas Is First State to Vote on Abortion Rights Post-Dobbs