Kansans on Tuesday defeated an anti-abortion ballot measure that would have removed the guaranteed right to abortion from the state’s Constitution and opened the door for a total ban.
In an upset victory, voters rejected the Value Them Both measure by what appears to be a resounding 59% to 41%. Prior to the results, polls showed the anti-abortion “yes” and pro-abortion rights “no” campaigns in a tighter race, with 47% supporting “yes,” and 43% for “no.” But these numbers didn’t tell the complete story: Kansans for Constitutional Freedom—the coalition supporting abortion rights—raised $6.5 million compared to Value Them Both’s $4.7 million (substantially aided by money from the state’s Catholic Church). And 94% of Democratic voters, compared with 78% of Republicans, said the measure “increased the importance of voting in this upcoming election.”
“With this anti-abortion amendment defeated, the residents of Kansas have signaled their strong desire to reject the dangerous acceleration of anti-abortion legislation that has swept the country over the past year. ... They have rejected the notion that pregnant people are hostages to their pregnancy,” Trust Women, which runs abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas, as well as Oklahoma City, said in a press release shared with Jezebel. “They have chosen liberty and self-empowerment over extremist ideology, and we wholeheartedly congratulate Kansans on succeeding in holding back the tide of authoritarianism that is rushing across our region.”
The takeaway is clear: Even in ostensibly red states, and even during primary elections, which tend to have substantially lower voter turnout, abortion rights are popular—extremely popular. It’s an important reminder that Democratic candidates should be pushing hard on abortion on the campaign trail, as well as working to pass vital abortion rights legislation in office: The “no” vote on the ballot measure has outperformed President Joe Biden in counties across Kansas.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, it did so against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans everywhere. The court is a fundamentally undemocratic institution that subjects millions of women and people with uteruses to unthinkable—and deeply unpopular—state violence. Rampant voter suppression in states with Republican-majority legislatures is another driving force in enacting abortion bans despite their unpopularity. When the right to abortion is on the ballot, it wins.
Certainly, no one is more aware of the popularity of abortion rights than the “yes” campaign in Kansas. If abortion weren’t popular, the anti-abortion side wouldn’t have had to rely on deceitful and under-handed tactics, including sending out texts falsely claiming that voting “yes” would “give women a choice” and “protect women’s health.” There’s also the extremely confusing framing of the question overall, in which a vote “yes” rejects abortion rights and a vote “no” protects abortion rights. On top of everything else, this appeared on a primary election ballot, for which voter turnout tends to be much lower.
Nonetheless, Kansas voters showed up for abortion rights. The “no” campaign, led by Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, drove home exactly what was at stake: Despite Value Them Both’s claims that the ballot measure presented a “common-sense” middle ground, its supporters in the legislature promised to use it to enshrine fetal personhood. The state has already become a last abortion haven in the region, as three of the four states bordering Kansas have moved to ban abortion, reportedly quadrupling out-of-state abortion seekers.
Josh Siebenaler, an organizer at the Kansas Abortion Fund, told Jezebel ahead of the election that their organization was “heartened by the outpouring of support we’ve seen from Kansans” on the issue, which has exploded since the Supreme Court decision in June. But Kansas Abortion Fund and other organizers on-the-ground in the state knew that, regardless of the outcome, their work remained clear, as there are “onerous and unnecessary restrictions that affect patients in Kansas.” Similarly, Trust Women’s press release emphasizes that despite this victory, we “cannot be content with the status quo,” adding that “the coming years will be critical as we work to restore legal abortion across the country.”
Kansas was the site of the anti-abortion movement’s 1991 “Summer of Mercy” terror campaign waged against abortion providers, inspiring a rise in anti-abortion violence across the country. In 2009, Kansas abortion provider George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion activist inside his church one Sunday. Kansas was once again the epicenter of the abortion rights fight—and, at least for now, abortion rights have won.