Kansans voted decisively against a ballot measure on Tuesday that would have allowed state lawmakers to further restrict abortion access in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which could have severely limited abortion access in the region.
The measure, known as the “Value Them Both Amendment,” was defeated 59 to 41 percent (as of Wednesday morning). The campaign director of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the pro-abortion rights group that worked to sink the amendment, hailed their victory as “truly an historic day for Kansas and an historic day for America.” Value Them Both, the group that backed the amendment, promised to ensure their loss is just “a temporary setback.”
Before the vote, it was unclear what would happen. Past polls showed Kansas to be evenly divided between those who support abortion access and those against it, and polling conducted ahead of the election suggested that voters were closely divided over the measure.
But the final result wasn’t particularly close, and appears to represent the will of a broad swath of Kansas voters. Turnout was supercharged. Votes are still being counted as of Wednesday morning, but roughly 47 percent of eligible voters — more than 900,000 Kansans — cast ballots on the issue. That’s nearly double the participation seen in the last midterms in 2018, and 11 percentage points higher than the secretary of state predicted.
As the first state to vote on abortion since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturned Roe, Kansas was closely watched. The measure was on the ballot before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. But the Dobbs decision supercharged interest in the amendment: volunteers for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom increased tenfold, from 50 to 500 volunteers per week. Volunteers ultimately knocked on more than 25,000 doors in June, said Ashley All, spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.
“Quite frankly it was a wake-up call for a lot of Kansans, including probably more moderate voters who thought their constitutional rights were protected at the federal level,” All told Vox in July.
Analysts are already hypothesizing about what the amendment’s loss means for abortion in America, what lessons Republicans should learn, and whether the high turnout means Democrats should be hopeful about the fall.
But it’s difficult to make broad declarations based on the results of one race. On Election Day, abortion measures in California, Vermont, Montana, and Kentucky (and likely Michigan as well) will give more data on what Americans want. And it’s important to remember that abortion won’t directly be on most ballots in the fall; voters will instead largely be weighing in on candidates with a range of stances on a variety of issues. Still, it’s notable that a red state struck down a pathway to greater abortion restrictions so forcefully, and that so many voters who usually don’t vote in midterm primaries showed up this time.
People in Kansas will now continue to have access to abortion services up to to 22 weeks of pregnancy with some restrictions, including mandatory ultrasounds and counseling, and parental consent in cases involving minors. And those who live in more restricted neighboring states will continue to be able to travel to Kansas for certain abortion procedures.
What the Kansas anti-abortion constitutional amendment would have done
The Value Them Both Amendment would have amended the state constitution to explicitly state that “there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion.” Kansas already restricts the use of public funds for abortions to cases where federal law requires it, including those involving rape and incest, and where the life of the pregnant person is at risk.
The amendment also would have codified the state legislature’s power to pass laws that regulate abortion, effectively overriding a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that recognized a “woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy” under the state constitution. That court ruling’s made abortion possible in Kansas, and is what allows it to be a resource to its neighbors.
The state of Kansas found that 49 percent of abortion procedures, a total of 3,912, performed in the state were done for people from other states in 2021. That number is expected to grow given that so many of Kansas’s neighbors, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, have banned the procedure or soon will.
A number of Kansas providers have reported an uptick in out-of-state patients; a provider in Wichita, for example, told the Washington Post their practice has seen a 60 percent increase in patients from outside Kansas over the past year.
While the amendment’s defeat is politically notable, it’s patients and their families who will benefit most from Tuesday’s vote.
A major win for abortion advocates
The stakes of the vote were fairly clear: to continue allowing abortion, or to give the GOP-dominated legislature a green light to restrict it.
Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in the previous session of the state legislature that would ban abortion. House Bill 2746 would have made it a felony to perform an abortion from the moment of fertilization, with exceptions for cases involving an ectopic pregnancy. The measure struggled to gain traction, and it’s unlikely to do so going forward now that Kansas voters have decisively voted down the ballot initiative.
Now that voters have essentially opted to maintain the status quo in Kansas, the subject of abortion might not take up as much oxygen in statewide races where it had become a major flashpoint, including the governor’s race.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposed the ballot measure, and has said that “every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her, her family, and her physician,” opposing any legislation that would interfere with those decisions.
The Republican nominee for governor, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, supported the amendment and said that he would “prefer a future with less abortion, not more.” He did, however, issue a legal opinion in July that clarified that treating miscarriages, removing dead fetuses, and ending ectopic pregnancies would not be considered abortions under Kansas law.
Rachel Cohen contributed reporting.
Update, August 3, 12:40 pm: This story has been updated to reflect current vote results and post-election sentiment.