Kansas first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s demise

Kansas is conducting the first test in the United States of voters’ feelings about Supreme Court decision to dismiss Roe v. Wadewith people deciding statewide on Tuesday whether to allow their conservative legislature to further restrict or ban abortion.

The referendum on the proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution is closely watched as a measure of liberal and moderate voters’ anger at the June ruling that brought down the national right to abortion. But the result may not reflect broader sentiment in the country as a whole, given how conservative Kansas is and the doubling of the number of Republicans who voted in the August primary over the past decade.

Supporters of the measure won’t say before the vote whether they intend to pursue the ban if it is passed, but they have spent decades lobbying 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 disclosing their position, they sought to win over voters who favored some restrictions but not an outright ban.

Abortion rights advocates expect the legislature to ban abortion if the ballot measure is passed, and in the wave of early voting, voters were more democratic than usual. Chandler Alton, a 28-year-old physical therapist from Overland Park, voted Tuesday against the abortion procedure.

“Abortion is health care and the government should not have a say on whether women receive what could be life-saving care,” Alton said, adding that she would vote in the future for candidates who “would not allow this kind of thing to happen.”

Secretary of State Scott Schwab said voter turnout across the state was much higher than expected by evening and appeared to be “on hand” at 50%. That would be the kind of turnout generally seen in the November midterm elections in Kansas, which averaged 52% over the past 20 years.

Normally, primary elections in Kansas are limited to the two major parties, but unaffiliated voters can cast their ballots in this election for the constitutional amendment. “I’m actually quite satisfied that everything is going smoothly as far as it is busy,” said Michael Abbott, Wyandotte County Elections Commissioner.

Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old school nurse from Olathe and Democracy, said she voted yes to the procedure because she is Christian and believes life begins with conception. “I’m not so widespread that there should be no abortion,” she said. “I know there are medical emergencies and when a mother’s life is in danger, there is no cause for two people to die.”

Twilio spokesperson Chris Baden said in an email that an anonymous group that sent a misleading text to Kansas voters asking them to “vote yes” in order to protect the choice was suspended late Monday from the Twilio messaging platform, resulting in Disable its ability to send new messages. Twilio, without publicly identifying the sender, said it had determined that the account violated its acceptable use policy, which prohibits the spread of misinformation.

The text went to voters across the state, including former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sibelius. Davis Hammett, a voting rights advocate who received a text message on Monday afternoon, said the message appeared to be aimed at Democrats who had not yet voted. The Kansas Campaign for Constitutional Freedom, the main campaign for “Vote No,” called the text an example of “desperate and disingenuous tactics.”

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office said it had received phone calls about texts from the general public and “acknowledged their concerns. However, state law does not allow the office to regulate campaign ads or messages.” The Kansas State Ethics Committee also posted on Twitter that under current law, text-messaging invitations about constitutional ballot initiatives do 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 to add a similar language to its constitution. Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights clause to its constitution. A similar question likely heads to the November poll in Michigan.

The Kansas scale is in response to a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that declared access to abortion a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights. The two parties together spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were major donors to the “no” side, while Catholic parishes heavily funded the “yes” campaign. Although some early voters favored banning nearly all abortions, the Vote Yes campaign offered the measure as a way to restore lawmakers’ authority to set “reasonable” abortion limits and maintain existing restrictions.

Kansas does not prohibit most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy. But a law banning the most common procedure in the second trimester and another that would set special health regulations for abortion providers is still pending due to legal challenges. “If passed, tomorrow’s vote in Kansas could void another state’s right to choose and take away access to health care.

The Republican-controlled legislature has enjoyed an anti-abortion majority since the early 1990s. Kansas did not go further in restricting abortion because abortion opponents felt constrained either by previous federal court decisions or because the governor was a Democrat, like Governor Laura Kelly, who was elected in 2018.

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