“This excessive level of government — literally interfering in the decisions that a doctor and a patient make together — resonated with the people of Kansas,” she said. “It’s a scary time to think that you or your loved one might be in a situation where it’s not up to you or your care provider to know what care you can get, but rather up to the government and what they think you deserve.”
Turnout in the primary also climbed above usual levels on Tuesday, and in some counties it was closer to the turnout usually seen in a presidential election. Early in-person voting, which tends to favor Democrats, was also nearly 250 percent higher than the last midterm primary election in 2018, when Democrats and Republicans had competitive gubernatorial races, while the number of mail-in ballots more than doubled.
The “no” campaign has also outperformed in fairly conservative areas – such as Shawnee County in the state’s east – several points ahead of President Joe Biden’s results there in 2020.
At the campaign watch party for abortion rights groups in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, supporters cheered, cried, jumped and hugged as fresh waves of votes were counted in their favour. Teenagers with purple hair wearing cutouts mingled with older men and women in suits in a hotel ballroom. A woman cradled a Ruth Bader Ginsburg doll as she watched the results.
“Abortion is not a partisan issue – it’s a trap that people fall into,” Ashley All, spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, told POLITICO. “That’s just not how most Americans or most Kansans think about the matter.”
The results were also hailed by abortion rights groups across the country who see Kansas’ referendum defeat as a model for future efforts in cities and states across the country. The vote also countered the narrative that the issue of abortion is a bigger motivator for conservative voters, and may signal a warning to Republican lawmakers across the country that the deer decision could generate considerable negative reactions in the months and years to come.
“Reproductive freedom is a winning issue, now and in November,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju said in a statement. “Anti-choice lawmakers take note: Voters have spoken, and they will go to the polls to oppose efforts to curb reproductive freedom.”
The decision means that state abortion clinics can continue to serve not only Kansans, but also patients in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and other states that banned the procedure after deer have fallen, many of whom have traveled to Kansas in recent weeks. The anti-abortion campaign has seized on this trend, warning in ads that the state would become an “abortion destination” like California if the amendment failed.
Value Them Both, the umbrella group of anti-abortion advocates that lobbied for the amendment, called the decision a “temporary setback”.
“Our dedicated fight to empower women and babies is far from over,” they said in a statement late Tuesday. “We will be back.”
The referendum result particularly shocked the state because the campaign for the amendment had some structural advantages heading into Tuesday, and they were leading in recent polls.
Not only is Kansas a solidly red state that voted twice for President Donald Trump, but the supermajority Republican legislature also decided to schedule the vote for the primary instead of the general election. Turnout is typically much lower in August and favors Republicans, who have more competitive primaries than Democrats in Kansas. And many students, who tend to be more progressive, are away for the summer.
Student activists working to defeat the amendment said they were all more motivated by what they saw as a sneaky effort to suppress their votes.
“It was very intentional, and I think young people took notice and realized that there are political structures in place to put us down,” said Donovan Dillon, a sophomore at the University of Kansas. who helped lead the western-themed country. Vote Neighbor campaign against the amendment. “When I reached out to some friends and said, ‘Do you want to come do some scrim this weekend?’ everyone was on board, even friends who had never been politically involved before.
The “Value Them Both” amendment was fuel for the usually sleepy primary election. Hundreds of volunteers from across the country converged on the state to knock on hundreds of thousands of doors. Both sides have raised and spent millions of dollars on ads, mailings, telephone banking and other outreach – largely from the Catholic Church on the anti-abortion side and Planned Parenthood on the human rights side. ‘abortion.
But while the state served as a proxy war for groups fighting for abortion rights nationwide in a post-deer America, the countryside also had a distinct Kansas flavor.
Outside the state capitol in Topeka on Saturday, people protesting the amendment held up posters covered in sunflowers while speakers on the Capitol steps invoked the state motto “Ad astra per aspera” – to the stars through adversity. Local businesses on the street showed Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz urging her fellow Kansas people to vote no.
The last days before the vote were also marked by tension and confusion.
Some lawn signs for the “Value Them Both” campaign had NO spray painted on them in black capital letters. The Catholic churches – the main funders of the anti-abortion campaign – were also vandalizedwhile abortion rights protesters were threatened with arrest.
On Saturday, a group of anti-abortion activists marched down the sidewalks of Lawrence, a progressive college town, shouting “Don’t kill the babies” at passers-by.
On Sunday, an 18-year-old anti-abortion canvasser came from Texas to volunteer with the group Students for Life says she was physically assaulted by a resident while knocking on doors in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood. She filed a police report and released a video that does not show the incident itself, but shows the resident screaming and fingering her afterwards.
On Monday, several residents alerted the state’s ACLU chapter that they had received a misleading bot text from an unknown number suggesting that a “yes” vote would protect access to abortion.
“Kansas women are losing choice over reproductive rights,” the posts read, according to screenshots shared with POLITICO. “Voting YES on the amendment will give women a choice.”
Former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius received the texts and said in a statement she was not surprised by the tactic.
“The anti-choice movement has been lying to Kansas voters for decades,” she said. “This act of desperation will not stop Kansas voters from protecting their constitutional rights and freedom.”
Many voters told POLITICO that the debate also pitted family members against each other.
Asked about the “Vote Yes” sign in his front yard, Olathe resident David Schaffer said it belonged to his daughter and vehemently disagreed.
“She can do whatever she wants. She’s a grown adult,” he said. that’s what it does.
One of her neighbors, Edianna Yantis, told POLITICO that her “yes vote” had recently been stolen from her front yard and she suspected her son, who had tried to convince her to vote no.
“He said, ‘Mom, I don’t like abortion, but that means they’re going to cut abortions altogether.’ I told him, ‘You have to do your research,’ but he says yes,” she said with a sad smile.
Ultimately, despite the state’s conservative leanings, voters saw the amendment as a bridge too far.
And while the state’s younger voters lean more progressive, the proposal’s defeat was also fueled by older Kansans like Barbara Lawson, who reminisces about life before deer c. Wade.
When canvassers from Kansans for Constitutional Freedom came to her door Monday to urge her to vote against the amendment, Lawson said she had a baby when she was 17 after being raped.
“I don’t know if I would have [had an abortion] because I had no choice — abortion was illegal. It was very hard,” she said. “Now I’m afraid they’ll restrict all abortions again and we’ll be back in the dark ages.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s contest, there were signs voters’ views on abortion were more nuanced than their partisan leanings. A poll from July, for example, found that a third of voters favored no restrictions on abortion, while only 9% said they preferred a total ban. And a survey 2021 conducted by Fort Hays State University found that more than 50% of Kansans agreed with the statement, “The Kansas government should not impose any regulations on the circumstances under which women can have abortions.”
“People make a lot of assumptions about Kansas,” Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), the lone Democrat on the state’s congressional delegation, who flipped a previously red district in 2018. “People here care about their community and want things to be fair.”