Kansas rejects weakening of abortion rights in ballot initiative

Voters in Kansas rejected an amendment that would have weakened protections for abortion in the state, a huge win for reproductive rights advocates in the first test at the ballot box since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.

The GOP-sponsored initiative, known as Amendment 2, would not have banned abortion in the state, but a yes vote “would affirm there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion” and would have opened the door for the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass further restrictions. At the time the Associated Press called the race, the no vote was winning by more than 20 points.

The initiative was an attempt to overturn a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled 6-1 that the state constitution “enables a woman to make decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life, including the decision whether to continue a pregnancy.”

Due in large part to that decision, Kansas continued to ensure abortion rights despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that access to the procedure is not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Republican-controlled states bordering Kansas, such as Oklahoma and Missouri, now have near-total bans in place, making the state a safe haven for neighboring populations.

A billboard urging Kansans to vote reads: Trust women. Vote no Aug. 2nd.
A billboard urges Kansans to vote "no" on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would assert there is no right to abortion. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

“This historic victory was the result of a groundswell of grassroots support and a broad coalition of reasonable, thoughtful Kansans across the state who put health care over politics,” Planned Parenthood Great Plains CEO Emily Wales said in a statement. “We have seen the devastation caused by a loss of access to abortion in neighboring states and tonight, Kansans saw through the deception of anti-abortion interests to ensure people in their state retained their rights. Now, more than ever, our work continues.”

The victory comes in a state that former President Donald Trump won by 15 points in 2020. It also comes after Republican legislators specifically placed the initiative on the primary ballot, hoping the usual turnout — smaller and more conservative than November’s general election, with fewer unaffiliated voters participating — would help the amendment succeed. The limited polling in the race had indicated a tight race, with a July survey finding 47% in favor of the amendment, 43% opposed and 10% undecided.

Polls show that most Americans want abortion to be legal, and Democrats hope the issue will motivate voters to support their candidates this November. The victory comes on the same day the Justice Department announced it was suing Idaho over a restrictive abortion law that the federal government says prevents emergency room doctors from providing pregnant patients with adequate care.

In a statement following the result, President Biden said, “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions.

“Congress should listen to the will of the American people and restore the protections of Roe as federal law,” he added. “While that is the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose, my Administration will continue to take meaningful action to protect women’s access to reproductive health care.”

Reproductive rights supporters at a primary election watch party in Overland Park, Kan.
Reproductive rights supporters on primary night in Overland Park, Kan., cheer as the proposed amendment fails on Tuesday. (Dave Kaup/AFP via Getty Images)

Anti-abortion advocates in the state expressed disappointment in the result. The Value Them Both Coalition, the main organization pushing for the repeal of protections, issued a statement in which it calls the outcome “a temporary setback” caused by “an onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations.” Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican and an ob-gyn, called it an “enormous blow to efforts to protect the sanctity of life in Kansas.”

“Too many times I’ve seen sadness and hurt, without an explanation why — this is one of those moments,” Marshall said in a series of tweets. “While I don’t have an answer, I do know that God works all things for good for those who trust him.”

While Kansas has consistently voted Republican for president and the U.S. Senate for decades, there have been Democrats in statewide office, including current Gov. Laura Kelly, who won election in 2018 by defeating Republican Kris Kobach, the controversial former Kansas secretary of state. Kelly, who opposed the amendment, will face Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt this fall.

A July Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 54% of Americans said abortion is “a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to,” versus 30% who said individual states should be allowed to outlaw it. In a poll taken over the weekend, 43% percent of Americans said they felt Democrats would do a better job on abortion, versus 30% who said Republicans would.

Kansas is only the first state to vote on the issue in 2022, as other abortion-related initiatives will be on the ballot this November in California, Kentucky, Montana, Vermont and likely Michigan. Additionally, gubernatorial contests in states like Pennsylvania are likely to affect the legality of the procedure.