Oft when politicians say “abortion is on the ballot,” they mean it figuratively—vote for this candidate or that, so your representatives won’t ban abortion. But on Tuesday in Kansas, abortion is literally on the primary election ballot in the form of the deceptive Value Them Both ballot measure.
The state is the first of several set to vote directly on abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and Kansans will vote on whether to change the state Constitution to remove the guaranteed right to an abortion. This ballot measure alone could determine the fate of abortion access, not just in Kansas but the entire Midwest. Its ramifications could also be felt across the country, as providers in states where abortion remains legal become increasingly overwhelmed by traveling abortion patients.
The “Value Them Both” campaign—which has reportedly received more than $3 million in funding from the Catholic Church in Kansas—has thus far relied on extremely underhanded, dishonest tactics, including reportedly sending out text messages telling voters to vote “yes” on the measure to “give women a choice” and “protect women’s health.” Though other anti-abortion campaigns have disavowed these texts, this is emblematic of their greater strategy of purposefully confusing voters to win something they know they don’t have: public support.
The campaign has also consistently misrepresented itself, lying that the ballot measure merely aims to adopt “common-sense” abortion “limits,” rein in the “radical left,” and stop Kansas from becoming like “New York” or “California,” rather than what it really does: leave the door wide open for lawmakers to ban and criminalize abortion. One anti-abortion lawmaker in the state legislature already said as much at a rally for the measure last month, in which he promised to ban abortion from “conception” if the measure is successful. In other words, the endgame here is to establish fetal personhood, make women and pregnant people’s rights secondary to fetuses’, and prosecute miscarriage and abortion. If the ballot measure succeeds, Kansas’ Democratic governor Laura Kelly won’t be able to save the state from banning abortion due to the legislature’s conservative super-majority.
And by design, the Value Them Both measure is fundamentally deceptive in its framing. A “yes” vote isn’t pro-abortion, it’s a “yes” to end the right to abortion. A “no” vote rejects the constitutional change and protects abortion rights. And all of this is on top of the fact that this is already a ballot measure in a primary election, both factors that will inevitably suppress the vote. Kelly Hall, director of the Fairness Project which advocates for progressive policy via state-level ballot measures, told Jezebel ballot measures can often go ignored by voters who may vote for a candidate at the top of the ticket and not bother to vote for anyone or anything else. “One of the biggest headwinds that ballot measures run into is simply the fact that they are ballot measures and not many people pay attention to them,” Hall said. “Kansas’ ballot measure is different from others, because it’s a primary meaning lower turnout, and it’s a really complicated version of the question about reproductive rights.”
Of course, thanks to the overturning of Roe in June, mobilizing Kansans for abortion rights hasn’t been an issue in the otherwise conservative-leaning state. Last month, FiveThirtyEight’s polling showed the race was in a dead heat with 47 percent support for “yes” compared with 43 percent for “no.” And there are other vitally important numbers to consider: Kansans for Constitutional Freedom—the coalition supporting abortion rights—has raised $6.5 million compared to Value Them Both’s $4.7 million. Additionally, 94 percent of Kansas Democratic voters compared with 78 percent of Republicans say the measure has “increased the importance of voting in this upcoming election.”
Josh Siebenaler, an organizer at the Kansas Abortion Fund, says they’re “heartened by the outpouring of support we’ve seen from Kansans” on the issue, particularly since the Supreme Court decision. “We’re confident that Kansas will vote to protect abortion access and polling backs this up. But whichever way the campaign goes, we’ll continue to do what we’ve always done: provide financial support for all Kansans in need to obtain abortion care,” Siebenaler told Jezebel. “And if we win, there will still be onerous and unnecessary restrictions that affect patients in Kansas.” Just a few of these restrictions that Siebenaler notes include a 22-week abortion ban, mandatory state-directed anti-abortion counseling and ultrasounds, a 24-hour waiting period, restrictions on telemedicine abortion access, parental notification for minors, and more.
It doesn’t help that since the overturning of Roe, an influx of out-of-state abortion seekers has already made care more difficult to access in the state. Siebenaler says callers to the Kansas Abortion Fund are reporting “significantly increased wait times” from clinics, particularly in the western part of the state which has always been an abortion desert, and where abortion is “a right in name only.”
Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, communications director of Trust Women, previously told Jezebel an abortion ban in Kansas could virtually end abortion access across the region. Once Roe was overturned, three out of four of Kansas’ neighboring states—Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri—immediately banned or moved to ban abortion. Bloomberg estimated that Kansas could see a “quadrupling” of abortion patients in post-Roe America. And according to Gingrich-Gaylord, Trust Women’s Kansas clinic recently “received around 1,000 calls in one day,” and has already “become a majority out-of-state provider” since Texas enacted an abortion ban last September. On the day Roe was overturned, “people in Mississippi and Louisiana were literally calling us from the waiting rooms of abortion clinics there, saying their appointment had just been canceled and could we fit them in,” Dr. Christina Bourne, the medical director of Trust Women, said last month.
Trust Women’s Kansas clinic notably operates in the same clinic where George Tiller provided abortion care until he was murdered by an anti-abortion activist in 2009. Kansas was also the battleground of the anti-abortion movement’s 1991 “Summer of Mercy” terror campaign against abortion providers, which inspired waves of anti-abortion violence across the country. History is repeating itself: This summer, decades later, the state once again takes center-stage in the fight for abortion rights—this time without the protections afforded by Roe.
“As much as I want to be gung-ho, ‘let’s put the signs up, let’s put the signs up,’ I also have a 4-year-old daughter in my home that I have to be careful of and be mindful of her safety,” Ashley Michele Streid, a local stay-at-home mom, told VICE News. And if the state’s history is any indicator of the lengths anti-abortion activists will go, Streid is right to have fears.
It’s no exaggeration to state that women and pregnant people’s lives are on the ballot in Kansas on Tuesday. Across the country, it’s become all too clear what happens when abortion is banned: Child rape victims are denied care, people with pregnancy complications could be left to die, and people pregnant with dead fetuses could be forced to give birth or remain pregnant, putting their own health at risk. In states that have banned abortion, pregnant people are living through a waking nightmare.