This fight is the first of its kind after-Roe v. Wade, and analysts say it could go either way. So it’s an indicator of whether the ballot measures will help protect — or end — abortion rights across the country.
The Kansas ballot initiative could also end abortion access for thousands of women in the Midwest and Texas, who may soon have nowhere to go in the region. Here’s what to know about it.
What the ballot measure says – and what it would do
Proponents of abortion rights argue that what the measure says and what it will do are two different things. The ballot measure asks Kansans if they want to repeal the state’s constitutional protection for abortion.
A “yes” vote would overturn Kansas’ constitutional protection for abortion. A “no” vote would keep these protections in place.
If the ballot measure passes, it would allow the Republican legislature to pass laws banning abortion. It’s a realistic result, given that Republicans in Kansas have tried for years to do just that: They tried to ban abortion in 2013, and in 2015 Kansas became the first state to ban a common procedure for second-trimester abortions. The State Supreme Court spilled thatasserting Kansas’ constitutional right to an abortion in the process.
But if conservatives can change the state constitution, they can ban abortion. Even though Kansas has a Democratic governor, Republicans in the state have a supermajority in the legislature and can override his veto.
Supporters of the ballot initiative — aware that outright abortion bans are unpopular, even among significant numbers of young Republican women — say that the amendment would not necessarily lead to a particular policy. They argue the state should not be hobbled by this 2019 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which allows abortions up to about 20 weeks.
In a post-deer world, say supporters of the ballot initiative, the legislature should decide.
“Restore common sense abortion limits,” says an ad for the campaign.
But opponents accuse the ballot initiative of actually being a gateway to a Kansas abortion ban.
The ballot measure does not say when abortion should be banned in Kansas, and leaders of the initiative avoided commenting on the kinds of restrictions they would support, in an effort to make the initiative as broad as possible. But one Kansas State Senator and a former ballot initiative organizer blurred those lines when they told their supporters that if this ballot measure were approved, they would push for a complete ban on abortion.
It’s also unusual to have a statewide ballot measure in a primary, rather than a general election, when more voters turn out. Traditionally, only party-affiliated voters can vote on primary day (although unaffiliated voters can vote on this ballot initiative). Abortion rights supporters point to this moment when they claim the other side is secretly trying to ban abortion in the state.
Opinion polls are limited, but the data available suggests that Kansans are sharply divided on whether to maintain or end abortion protections.
What this would mean for abortion access in the Midwest
If this ballot initiative passes, it could soon be nearly impossible to get an abortion in the region. In the month since the Supreme Court struck down deer, most bordering states Kansas either tried to ban abortion or succeeded: Missouri and Oklahoma almost immediately banned abortion; a third state, Nebraska, is trying to severely limit abortion. Kansas abortion providers said they were flooded with sick from as far away as Texas after that state’s six-week ban went into effect last fall.
As other states tighten restrictions, abortion opponents have branded Kansas a “sanctuary” for abortion, reports Annie Gowen of the Post.
How did Kansas become the center of the fight against abortion in the United States?
Kansas has a history of open abortion rights. One of the nation’s few third-trimester abortion providers operated in Wichita before he was killed in 2009, NPR notes.
Republican lawmakers have tried for decades to restrict abortion as much as possible. But in 2019, their efforts to end second-trimester abortions backfired when the state Supreme Court overturned their law and ruled that the Kansas constitution expressly provides a right to abortion. The constitution’s promise of “equal and inalienable natural rights” includes, the court said, “the ability to control one’s own body.”
With the ruling, the judges made it impossible for abortion opponents in Kansas to create new legislation ending abortion rights without first amending the constitution. (By reversing Deer, the US Supreme Court only lifted federal restrictions on abortion; it has not implemented any in the States.) Hence this ballot initiative.
What the Kansas results could mean for other abortion fights
The post office-deer world has created a tangle of abortion laws and court fights this sometimes means that abortion restrictions change from day to day.
Ballot initiatives are another part of this battle, and a relatively important part. This year, at least four more states plan to have ballot initiatives on protecting abortion rights (in Vermont and California) — or ending them (in Kentucky). Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue are collecting signatures in other states, such as Michigan and Montana, to try to define abortion rights for years to come.
Increasingly, the left in particular has turned to ballot initiatives to advance policies without conservative state legislatures, on issues ranging from gun restrictions to minimum wage to health care. health. In 2017, for example, voters in Maine massively expanded Medicaid through a ballot initiative, over objection from Republican leaders in the state.
But submitting abortion proposals directly to voters is a relatively new political battle, so no one is quite sure how these fights will play out. National opinion polls show a majority of Americans want abortion protections and think outright bans go too far, says a new Washington Post-Schar School poll. Americans who support abortion rights also say they are less motivated to vote in November
So what’s going on in Kansas – which managed to hang on to abortion protections immediately after deer fell – is considered an indicator of the battles against abortion.