For abortion rights activists, Tuesday’s overwhelming refusal by Kansas voters to hold a ballot that would have allowed Republican lawmakers to restrict or ban the procedure isn’t just an unexpected victory in this conservative state.
It is a roadmap for future battles.
Activists say their campaign – the first major public test of abortion rights since the US Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in June – is providing lessons in support of abortion rights across the country.
“There is a way to respond,” said Emily Wells, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “We want to tell people who live in states that have lost their rights, who feel defeated, that Kansas is showing that it can be done. And it doesn’t have to be completely progressive.”
The ballot measure would have eliminated the right to abortion from the state constitution, but 59% of voters rejected it — a finding that suggests Republicans face a political backlash for the overturning of Roe v. Wade ahead of the November midterm elections.
Anti-abortion activists say the finding in Kansas indicates that their supporters may have become satisfied with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Penny Nance, chair of the anti-abortion group Women Care America, says their opponents now appear to be more active.
“We still have to do the hard work,” she said.
Meanwhile, jubilant abortion rights activists have offered their stark warnings that Democrats should not take this new engagement for granted.
“Is this decision infuriating and inviting people to want to go out and do something? Yes,” said Christina Uribe, director of advocacy and policy strategy at Action for Gender Equality. [into] Vote for a Democratic candidate? I don’t know.”
In Kansas, where registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters largely outnumber Democrats, abortion rights activists have been working overtime in recent months to build a broad coalition, using the language of personal liberty and individual rights.
“We found common ground among the various electoral blocs and mobilized people from across the political spectrum to vote No,” Rachel Sweet, director of the Kansas for Constitutional Freedom campaign, told reporters on Wednesday.
“People across the political spectrum believe in personal freedom,” she said. “They understand that we must protect our constitutional rights and freedom to make private medical decisions, including those related to abortion.”
The campaign against this measure has attracted not only abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, but also the League of Women Voters of Kansas, the General Coalition and other groups whose messages are tailored to moderate conservatives and independents. It also recruited Catholics for Choice and more than 70 religious leaders in the state.
In one ad, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom coined the measure as a “strict government mandate designed to interfere with private medical decisions,” displaying images linking abortion restrictions to vaccine and mask mandates.
“We need to be able to have conversations with people who disagree with us, or may not agree with us on every point, but share the common goal of protecting people’s personal independence and their constitutional rights to make these decisions themselves,” said Ashley Owl, group communications director.
The measure appeared on the ballot along with the primaries for congressional seats. Supporters and opponents knocked on tens of thousands of doors and spent millions of dollars on ads, and the turnout of nearly half of the state’s registered voters was unprecedented in the Kansas primaries.
Abortion rights won a landslide in the Kansas City suburbs, but they also got more support than expected in rural and conservative areas of the state.
At least half of the Kansans who cast ballots on Tuesday had never voted in a primary before. Those who voted early on were overwhelmingly women and likely to be Democrats, said Tom Bonnier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic company that specializes in political data.
“Obviously, women were more involved in these elections, and that led to a much higher turnout,” he said.
Bonnier said after the Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade on June 24, Kansas saw a significant change in who was registering to vote, with a significant increase in the number of women and Democrats being added to voter rolls.
The result mirrored what polls had long shown: a majority of Americans support the right to abortion. In a Pew survey published last month, 61% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and more than half of respondents said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The result is at odds with the modern trend in Republican-leaning states. In the past eight years, voters in Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee have approved amendments stating that their states do not protect abortion rights, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute in Washington.
The Supreme Court ruling has already led to the loss of abortion rights in states across the South and Midwest. It also brought a series of news coverage of complex cases, including cases of women whose doctors refused to perform abortions even when their fetuses died or their pregnancy was not viable—and the saga of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who had to leave the state to receive an abortion.
“It’s important to see that the tide may have turned,” Nash said. “Basically, rubber has hit the road. It is now a reality that there is no federal protection for abortion rights, and people are seeing the problem in a way they didn’t see six months or a year ago.”
However, a key question for political activists and analysts from every side of the divide is whether the political backlash to the court’s decision will extend into the midterm elections.
Four states – Kentucky, California, Michigan and Vermont – will vote on abortion-related ballot measures. In many other states, this issue will loom large in the background of major races, as voters decide how to balance candidates’ positions on abortion versus their positions on other matters.
Some abortion rights advocates say the Kansas result shows that Democrats, even in conservative states, should not shy away from the issue of abortion, but rather make it a central platform for their campaigns.
“If they lead that, they have an opportunity to engage voters across the aisle and have a wave of enthusiasm in their own base, which, frankly, you don’t see in the midterm elections,” said NARAL Pro President Minni Temarajo. America’s Choice. Group members and organizers knocked on more than 1,200 doors, made more than 30,000 phone calls, and sent 5,000 text messages in Kansas.
It’s unclear how much priority voters will give abortion, with many other issues on their minds, Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who runs focus groups with voters across the country.
“If you ask an open-ended question about what interests you in elections, people will say economics,” she said. “But when you ask people specifically about abortion, what we have seen is that they become very active. Even people who describe themselves as pro-life say that a complete ban on abortion is a long way away.”
She said the onus was now on Democrats to use the issue as an opportunity to revitalize the party that was widely expected to lose control of Congress in the November vote.
“It’s not enough just to have a problem,” she said. “You have to file a case.”
Abortion opponents are also looking at Kansas as they consider whether to push a hardline anti-abortion platform or develop a more moderate position.
said Ed Whelan, fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy in Washington. “Pro-life people need to meet voters wherever they are.”
Nance, of Concerned Women for America, said that despite the setback in Kansas, the drive to ban abortion remains a strong case for Republicans, and noted that abortion rights groups, while active, have a lot to do.
“The other side is going to have to finally do what we’ve had to do for the past 50 years – put a ground game together, put a [communication plans] Together, raise money, go in front of the precincts and work for what they want.” “We’ve been doing this all along.”
To critics who say the anti-abortion movement has gone too far in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Nance said that has yet to be determined in the upcoming elections. Rather than reassessing legislative strategy, she emphasized more regulation on the ground.
“We’re going to have to fight for it, especially in some of the more purple cases,” she said. “I am very happy to go to the case.”