Kansas voters have rejected an effort to remove abortion protections from the state’s constitution, a resounding win for the abortion rights movement in the first statewide electoral test since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June.
The amendment’s failure in the conservative state on Tuesday lifted Democrats’ hopes that the issue of abortion rights will energise voters in November’s midterm elections even as they worry about surging inflation.
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The result also will prevent Kansas’s Republican-led legislature from passing severe abortion restrictions in the state, which has become a key abortion access point for the US heartland.
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 a higher than expected turnout. With 98 percent of the vote counted, 59 percent of voters favoured preserving abortion rights compared with nearly 41 percent who supported removing abortion protections from the state constitution, according to Edison Research.
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 health care decisions,” Biden said in a statement.
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.
“Kansans bluntly rejected anti-abortion politicians’ attempts at creating a reproductive police state,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity.
”Today’s vote was a powerful rebuke and a promise of the mounting resistance.”
Kansas’s 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 fall.
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, Allen said.
“This should be a real wake-up call for abortion opponents,” Neal Allen, a political science professor at Wichita State University, told Reuters news agency.
“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.”
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.
Tuesday’s referendum drew national attention and money. The Value Them Both Association, which supported the amendment, raised about $4.7m this year, about two-thirds of that from regional Catholic dioceses, according to campaign finance data.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the main coalition opposing the amendment, raised about $6.5m, including more than $1m from Planned Parenthood groups.
Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America, a national anti-abortion group, said it spent $1.4 million to promote the amendment and canvassed 250,000 homes in Kansas.
“Tonight’s loss is a huge disappointment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokesperson for the group. “The stakes for the pro-life movement in the upcoming midterm elections could not be higher.”