Kansas, a conservative-majority state in the Midwest, will continue to protect abortion access in the state constitution.
That’s because, on Tuesday night, Kansas voters broke turnout expectations to resoundingly oppose a Republican amendment meant to remove the right to abortion from the Kansas Constitution. The amendment was defeated in a 59-41% vote, according to the unofficial results.
And it was defeated across party lines. According to an analysis by the New York Times, the amendment received only 60% approval in a county that voted for Trump by 85%. Less than 56% of voters supported the amendment where Trump won 81% of the vote.
How did it happen? And can the success be mimicked in states such as Iowa?
Tuesday’s vote in Kansas was the first statewide one related to abortion since the US Supreme Court released its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June.
That victory for abortion rights advocates didn’t happen simply because of depressed support in conservative areas. Democrats turned out to vote, even though the ballot mostly had Republican candidates for the Republican primary.
And turnout they did. In total, more than 900,000 people—about 47% of all registered voters—showed up because of the amendment. That’s much higher than the 20-30% primary elections generally receive, and the 36% the Kansas secretary of state predicted. The amendment got more votes than any other item on the ballot.
That means people cared, and they were energized.
Something similar could happen here in Iowa. Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have also been pursuing a constitutional amendment to explicitly say there is no right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. The amendment has already passed one legislative session, and must do so again before the question goes before Iowa voters.
The earliest it would be on the ballot is November 2024.
Polling done by the Des Moines Register in late July showed 70% of Iowa Democrats see abortion as a critical issue for the fall election, and 28% see it as important but not critical. Voters who aren’t registered for either party also think it’s a critical or important issue.
But Democrats weren’t the only people in Kansas who voted against the amendment.
Only about 495,000 registered voters in the state are Democrats. They’re dwarfed by the more than 850,000 registered Republicans and outnumbered by the more than 500,000 unaffiliated voters.
So even if every single registered Democrat voted against the amendment, that wouldn’t make up the more than 500,000 people who voted against it.
The same Des Moines Register poll shows 60% of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 56% oppose amending the Iowa Constitution to explicitly state it does not recognize the right to abortion.
In Iowa, Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans and No Party voters, too, though not quite as much as they are in Kansas, so clearly Democrats aren’t the only Iowans who feel that way.
What’s more, fewer than half of Republicans support the proposed constitutional amendment, according to the Des Moines Register. One man who said he supported some restrictions on abortion said he opposed the amendment because he worried Republican leaders would go too far and ban all abortions.
Information and Organizing
Tuesday’s vote in Kansas could have gone differently without work done by volunteers and advocates.
Just before the election, text messages went out to registered voters in the state telling them voting “yes” would protect women’s choices, which was the opposite of how the amendment was written.
“Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights,” the text warned. “Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
The texts came from a political action committee (PAC) chaired by a former US Representative from Kansas.
Kansans for Life also sent out misinformation about what Kansas abortion law is. They argued that voting against the amendment would end all restrictions on abortion.
None of that was true.
On the ground before the vote, supporters for abortion access wrote postcards to registered voters, put up yard signs, and knocked on doors to tell people about the vote.
Abortion-rights supporters also drew the line for people between the amendment—which would have said there’s no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas—and future legislation that would severely restrict or outright ban the procedure.
“This outcome was a surprise to most observers and even to many of us that have been working on this campaign for years at this point,” said Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. “The deck was stacked against us from the beginning. From the moment lawmakers passed this amendment back in 2021, and put this vote on the 2022 primary ballot, we knew this would be an uphill battle.”
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