Kansas on Tuesday will become the first state to vote on the legality of abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Voters will not have the option of banning the procedure outright, however. Instead, they’ll vote on a GOP-sponsored initiative known as Amendment 2, which would strip abortion protections from the state constitution. But should a majority of voters support the measure, the Republican-controlled state Legislature is expected to move quickly to restrict or prohibit the procedure.
The initiative is 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 continues to ensure abortion rights despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in late June that access to the procedure is not protected by the federal Constitution. Republican-controlled states bordering Kansas, such as Oklahoma and Missouri, now have near-total bans in place.
Political observers from across the country will be paying close attention to how Kansas votes on the issue. Polls show that most Americans want abortion to be legal, and Democrats hope the issue will motivate voters to support their candidates this November.
If voters in conservative Kansas reject the GOP’s attempt to roll back abortion protections, that could offer some hope to Democrats, who are locked in an uphill battle to keep control of Congress in the midterms. It could also be good news for Kansas’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, who is up for reelection in the fall.
“If people in the state of Kansas vote no on that amendment, then the status quo will remain. And women’s reproductive rights will remain constitutional here in the state of Kansas,” Kelly said in June after Roe was overturned.
Republican legislators placed the initiative on the August 2022 primary ballot last year, hoping the usual turnout — smaller and more conservative than November’s general election, with fewer unaffiliated voters going to the polls — would help the amendment succeed.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, an organization opposing the initiative, is running ads noting that the state already has a number of abortion restrictions and warning that the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature may try to ban the procedure outright, including in cases of rape or incest, if the measure succeeds.
Meanwhile, groups encouraging voters to support Amendment 2 have also been on the airwaves with help from religious groups, painting the issue as overturning an extreme judicial ruling but not mentioning the potential for any ensuing abortion ban. According to KMBC News in Kansas City, more than $11 million has been spent on ads either supporting or opposing the amendment.
Although the 2019 court decision struck down some restrictions on abortion, many remain in place. Kansas currently mandates a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and requires women to receive an ultrasound beforehand.
It also mostly prohibits public funding for abortions, bans the use of telemedicine to acquire abortion medication and demands that minors obtain parental consent before undergoing the procedure.
Republicans hope reduced turnout works to their advantage, although the Kansas City Star reported there had been a 246% increase in early in-person votes compared to 2018. The limited polling indicates a tight race, with a July survey finding 47% in favor of the amendment, 43% opposed and 10% undecided.
“We’re optimistic,” Value Them Both, a group supporting the amendment, told Yahoo News in a statement Monday. “We’ve taken our message church-to-church, door-to-door, and person-to-person for over a year.”
"Anti-choice groups in this state have purposefully caused confusion throughout this campaign, with voters unclear about the language of the amendment, the timing of the vote, and what’s at stake," said Emily Wales, president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has been opposing the amendment. "It’s no coincidence this vote is on a primary ballot in August instead of the November general election. But there has been a groundswell of engagement and Kansans are not deterred."
A number of other abortion-related initiatives will be on the ballot in other states this November, including in California, Kentucky, Montana, Vermont and Michigan. And gubernatorial contests in states like Pennsylvania are also likely to affect the legality of the procedure.