Sorry, Kansas voters: The crusade to revoke your abortion rights will never, ever end

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press file photo
·3 min read

It’s not over, you know.

Yes, Kansas shocked the nation Tuesday night by delivering an unexpectedly resounding no vote to a state constitutional amendment that would’ve paved the way for an abortion ban. Yes, voters in our conservative state revealed some decidedly unconservative preferences about privacy and women’s rights — at least, once they got a chance to weigh the matter via secret ballot.

Yes, that victory came despite some dirty tricks from the anti-abortion rights side. And yes, everybody who worked for this result should take a moment to congratulate themselves and their allies for all the hard work and sleepless nights that went into this moment.

But the fight over abortion rights in the Sunflower State is far from over.

In fact, it might just be getting serious.

Why? Because if we’ve learned anything in 2022 about the pro-life movement in America — and in Kansas — it’s that it never, ever gives up.

The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled in favor of abortion rights in 1973. It affirmed that ruling again in 1992. And in 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court weighed in and said the state constitution’s guarantee of bodily autonomy includes the right to abortion.

Not once during that entire half-century did anti-abortion forces pick up their ball and go home. They believe that abortion is literally murder. You and I may not agree — and judging from Tuesday’s results, neither do the vast majority of our neighbors — but if that’s what you believed, would your conscience rest easy in a land of legalized abortion? Would you give up and accept the status quo?

Pro-life folks in Kansas went to work, instead.

They protested, sometimes in overwhelming numbers: The “Summer of Mercy” in 1991 drew thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators to George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita.

They transformed the state’s political landscape. The GOP once had a tent big enough that Nancy Kassebaum, a pro-choice Republican when there was such a thing, served three terms representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate. There is no way the party would nominate her today.

They endured mockery. Thomas Frank’s famous 2004 book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” depicted social conservatives in the Sunflower State as dupes of corporate interests, too dazzled by the GOP’s use of culture war rhetoric to realize they were voting against their own interests.

And — here’s the really scary part — a few “pro-lifers” even resorted to deadly violence. Tiller’s clinic was firebombed in 1986. He was shot in both arms in 1993. And in 2009, he was assassinated in his own church.

Pro-life activists worked tirelessly for nearly 50 years, never accepting abortion rights as “settled law.” In June, they got a generational payoff when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. If nothing else, the anti-abortion movement is proof of the power of persistence.

The result of all that work? Everything is suddenly unsettled now. That is why Tuesday’s vote in Kansas was so momentous.

The results are a huge setback for a briefly triumphant conservative movement. Democrats nationwide are suddenly heartened after a gloomy year, ready to take the battle to their Republican counterparts in this fall’s midterm elections. If the anti-abortion cause can’t win a democratic fight in this deep-red state, where can it win, right?

But a word of caution: Tuesday’s win for abortion rights probably won’t matter for too long.

In democratic politics, no victory is ever complete and no defeat is ever permanent. That’s especially true where abortion is concerned. There is no reason to believe that pro-life activists in Kansas will simply accept the will of the voters — no matter how clearly expressed — and move on.

I won’t pretend to know what’s next, but something is surely coming. Anti-abortion Kansans have been fighting their fights for decades. You think one measly election is going to make them surrender?