Kansas is the first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s death

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas will host the nation’s first test on Tuesday of voter sentiments regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade, with people across the state deciding 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 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?”

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.

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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 on 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’ limits on abortion and preserve existing restrictions.

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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, tomorrow’s vote in Kansas could lead to another state eliminating the right to choose. and eviscerating 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.

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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 on their own,” she said after voting early as she played with her 18-month-old son.

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Stafford reported from Overland Park and Olathe.

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