Abortion-rights supporters prevail in key Kansas midterm election referendum

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas was hosting the nation’s first test of voter sentiments on Tuesday regarding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, and with more than 70% of the vote counted late Tuesday, pro-abortion voters were winning by a whopping margin. margin of more than 60-40%.

If opponents of abortion rights had prevailed, the conservative state legislature was expected to further restrict or prohibit abortion. Turnout would have been significantly higher than normal for a midterm primary election.

The referendum on the proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution is being watched closely as a barometer of liberal and moderate voter anger over the June ruling overturning the nation’s abortion law. But the result may not reflect broader sentiments on the issue across the country, given how conservative Kansas is and how twice as many Republicans as Democrats voted in its August primaries in course of the last decade.

Proponents of the measure wouldn’t say before vote if they intend to pursue a ban if it passes, but they have spent decades pushing for new restrictions on an almost annual basis and many other states in the Midwest and South have banned abortion in recent weeks. By not declaring their position, they sought to convince voters in favor of certain restrictions but not an outright ban.

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Abortion rights advocates expect the legislature to ban abortion if the ballot measure passes, and the state has seen a increase in early voting with a more Democratic electorate than usual.

“At what level does the madness stop? said Eric Sheffler, a 60-year-old retired Army officer and Democrat who voted “no” early in suburban Kansas City. “What are they going to try to control next?”

Polls opened Tuesday across Kansas and election officials predicted the abortion measure will attract more voters. Polls were busy on Tuesday morning, with lines reported in some places. Generally, primary elections in Kansas are limited to the two major parties, but unaffiliated voters can vote in this election for the constitutional amendment. Early voting in person and absentee ballots have increased in large counties in Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte compared to the 2018 primary elections.

An anonymous group that sent a deceptive text message to Kansas voters telling them to ‘vote yes’ to protect their choice was suspended Monday night from the Twilio messaging platform, disabling its ability to continue texting, a said Twilio spokesperson Cris Paden in an email. . Twilio, without publicly identifying the sender, said it determined the account violated its acceptable use policy which prohibits the spread of misinformation.

The Kansas City Star reported that the text message was sent to voters across the state, including former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the leading “vote no” campaign, called the text an example of “desperate and deceptive tactics.”

The Kansas secretary of state’s office said it has received phone calls from the general public about the texts and “acknowledges their concerns.” However, state law does not allow the … bureau to regulate campaign ads or messaging. The Kansas Government Ethics Commission also posted on Twitter that under current law, text-based advocacy on constitutional ballot initiatives does not require attribution.

The Kansas measure would add language to the state constitution saying it does not grant the right to abortion, allowing lawmakers to regulate it as they see fit. Kentucky will vote in November on adding similar language to its constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question will likely head into the November ballot in Michigan.

The Kansas measure is a response to a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling stating that access to abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the State Bill of Rights.

The two parties have together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were the main donors to the “no” side, while Catholic dioceses largely funded the “yes” campaign.

“I just feel like people have become so nonchalant about abortion, like it’s just another method of birth control,” said Michelle Mulford, a 50-year-old teacher from the area. from Kansas City and a Republican who voted early for the proposed amendment, adding that she supports exceptions to the abortion ban for cases of rape, incest or life-threatening pregnancy.

Even though some early voters favor banning nearly all abortions, the “Vote Yes” campaign has touted its measure as a way to restore lawmakers’ power to set “reasonable” abortion limits and maintain existing restrictions.

Kansas does not ban most abortions before the 22nd week of pregnancy. But a law that would ban the most common second-trimester procedure and another that would establish special health regulations for abortion providers remain pending due to legal challenges.

Stan Ellsworth, a 69-year-old Republican retiree from the Kansas City area, said the argument that voting yes means an abortion ban is “shit.”

“I haven’t spoken to a single person who wants this,” he said after voting yes early in suburban Kansas City. “Most will accept reasonable exceptions and I think the other side knows that to be true.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre weighed in on the Kansas vote on Monday, saying, “If passed, (Tuesday’s) vote in Kansas could lead to another state eliminating the right to choose and eviscerate access to health care.”

The Republican-controlled legislature has had anti-abortion majorities since the early 1990s. Kansas has not gone further in restricting abortion because abortion opponents have felt coerced either by previous federal court rulings, or because the governor was a Democrat, like Governor Laura Kelly, who was elected in 2018.

Kelli Kolich, a 35-year-old Kansas City-area pizzeria and unaffiliated voter, said she voted no because she believes people have a basic right to make their own health care choices. and expects a yes to “eliminate that right”. ”

“Women wouldn’t have the ability to determine the best choices themselves,” she said after voting early as she played with her 18-month-old son.

Writer John Gravois contributed to this report.