Kansans decided to keep abortion protections in their state constitution after a Tuesday vote — a huge win for pro-choice advocates that will likely set the tone for what’s to come on abortion rights nationally.
Voters in the Midwest state voted against the Value Them Both amendment, which was created by anti-abortion Christian groups to strip protections for abortion care from the state’s constitution. The vote, which was held during a primary election, had a historic turnout ― as high as the 2008 presidential election. Voters chose to preserve abortion rights in the state by a double-digit margin.
President Joe Biden hailed the outcome in a statement late Tuesday. “The Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade put women’s health and lives at risk. Tonight, the American people had something to say about it. 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.”
The amendment was proposed in response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled the state’s constitution fundamentally protects abortion rights.
If Value Them Both had passed, it would have opened the door for anti-abortion rights lawmakers to pursue a total abortion ban — a move that many Kansas Republicans denied, but were caught on tape discussing.
The ballot initiative, which attracted national attention, was an “instant uphill battle” for pro-abortion rights groups in Kansas, Ashley All, from the pro-choice group Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, told HuffPost last week.
Republican lawmakers included the vote in a primary election, which usually has a lower turnout than the general election and skews conservative. Additionally, Kansas has closed primaries, which means unaffiliated voters are not used to voting in primaries. This gave Republicans in the state an advantage since about 44% of registered Kansas voters are Republicans, 26% are Democrats and 29% are unaffiliated.
Abortion rights advocates and lawmakers argued Republicans intentionally made the language of the amendment vague and confusing in order to mislead voters. The allegation from Democrats rang true after Kansas voters received a deceptive text message the night before the ballot vote, urging Kansans to vote yes on the amendment because it “will give women a choice” and “protect women’s health.” A vote in favor of the amendment would have stripped abortion protections from the state constitution. The texts, which were unsigned, were later linked back to a Republican-aligned firm that had connections to former U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
The outcome was a huge win for abortion supporters in Kansas and the region — and will likely set the tone for upcoming votes on abortion care around the country.
“Words could never express the sadness and emotion myself and many Kansans are feeling after the Value Them Both amendment was not adopted. This is an enormous blow to efforts to protect the sanctity of life in Kansas,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said in a statement Tuesday night.
“I want to thank everybody in the pro-life community who worked so hard to get this amendment passed,” his statement added. “Tonight, we must still go to bed with faith and hope, for tomorrow we must be as dedicated to the sanctity of life, and to the fight to protect the lives of moms and unborn babies.”
The vote on the Value Them Both amendment attracted national attention because it was the first on abortion rights since the Supreme Court earlier this summer repealed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that afforded federal abortion rights.
Kansas is an “unlikely sanctuary state” for about half the country, said Dr. Allison Block, a provider at the Trust Women abortion clinic in Wichita. Much of the Midwest and South have already banned or severely restricted abortion since Roe fell: Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri and Arkansas all have total abortion bans in effect; and North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa are in court challenging severe restrictions or waiting on bans to take effect.
If the Value Them Both amendment passed, it would have decimated abortion access in not only Kansas, but the entire Midwest and much of the South.
Abortion is already heavily regulated in Kansas: It’s banned after 22 weeks except to save the life of the pregnant person, and government funding for abortion care is outlawed. There are only five clinics left in the state, and there are a slew of other barriers to get care, including a 24-hour waiting period, state-mandated ultrasounds and required religious counseling.