Kansas voters on Tuesday rejected an effort to remove abortion protections from the state’s constitution in a resounding win for the abortion rights movement in the first statewide electoral test since the US supreme court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade ruling.
The amendment’s failure in the conservative state lifted Democrats’ hopes that the issue of abortion rights will draw voters to the party in November’s midterm elections.
The result also will prevent the Republican-led legislature in Kansas from passing severe abortion restrictions in the state, which has become a key abortion access point for America’s heartland.
“This should be a real wake-up call for abortion opponents,” said Neal Allen, a political science professor at Wichita State University. “When a total ban looks like a possibility, then you’re going to get a lot of people to turn out and you’re going to lose a lot of the more moderate supporters of abortion restrictions.”
Political analysts had expected the Kansas amendment to pass, given that Republicans typically turn out in greater numbers for the state’s primary elections than Democrats and independents.
But Tuesday’s vote drew higher-than-expected turnout. With 98 per cent of the vote counted, 59 per cent of voters favoured preserving abortion rights compared with nearly 41 per cent who supported removing abortion protections from the state constitution, according to Edison Research.
“This is a titanic result for Kansas politics,” said Mr Allen.
The Kansas ballot initiative is the first of several that will ask US voters to weigh in on abortion rights this year. Kentucky, California, Vermont and possibly Michigan will have abortion on the ballot this autumn.
The successful “vote no” campaign in Kansas could offer a blueprint to abortion rights groups looking to harness voter energy in the wake of Roe’s reversal, Mr Allen said.
US president Joe Biden joined Democrats across the country in applauding the results on Tuesday.
“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 healthcare decisions,” Mr Biden said in a statement.
Mr Biden was expected to sign a second executive order on Wednesday asking his health department to consider permitting the use of Medicaid funds for patients who travel out-of-state for abortions.
The order is expected to have limited impact. His first order in early July directed the federal government’s health department to expand access to medication abortion and ensure that women who travel for abortions are protected. The latest action builds on those measures. But like the first one it remains vague about how those goals can be achieved.
A statewide survey released by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University in February showed most Kansas residents did not support a total abortion ban.
Kansas Republicans had been pushing for a state constitutional amendment to eliminate abortion rights since 2019, when the Kansas supreme court ruled the state constitution protected the right to abortion.
As a result of the ruling, Kansas has maintained more lenient policies than other conservative neighbours. The state allows abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy with several restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for minors.
Patients travel to Kansas for abortions from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and other states that have banned the procedure almost entirely since the supreme court in June overturned Roe, the 1973 decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America, a national anti-abortion group, said it spent $1.4 million to promote the amendment.
“Tonight’s loss is a huge disappointment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman for the group. “The stakes for the pro-life movement in the upcoming midterm elections could not be higher.” — Reuters