Kansas City, Kan. – When Sharon Brown recently opened the door to her modest home in town, she was at first a little rude to the two young women standing in front of her, Yazmin Bruno-Valdez and Melanie Haas. They introduced themselves as volunteers with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a group that sounds conservative but fights to preserve abortion rights in the state. They knocked on doors in Wyandotte County, one of the state’s bluer pockets, urging voters to oppose an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would pave the way for tougher abortion restrictions, even a total ban. Ms. Bruno-Valdez offered a “vote no” leaflet explaining the measure, but Ms. Brown didn’t understand which side the women were on. Rocking black fuzzy slippers and a hot pink bathrobe, she made a disgusted face and waved the volunteers away. “I to believe on abortion,” she said, closing her door.
It took the volunteers some quick talk to explain that they too value reproductive rights – that voting ‘no’ to the amendment actually means voting ‘yes’ against maintaining access to abortion. When that was clear, Ms. Brown warmed to the discussion and shared her prediction of the grim future that an abortion ban would bring, saying, “They’re going to find dead babies everywhere: in garbage bags, in trash cans, in toilets, in fields.” She assured the duo that she would appear on August 2, when the measure will be on the Kansas primary ballot.
Confusion over the wording of the Republican-driven ballot measure — subtly called Value Them Both, and simply figuring out what a “yes” or “no” vote can be can be daunting — is just one of the hurdles that abortion rights advocates face. face in Kansas, the first major political test for abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade in June.
That ruling has accelerated the fight against the Kansas Amendment, which stemmed from a 2019 state Supreme Court decision that the Kansas Constitution “protects a woman’s right to decide whether she wants to continue a pregnancy.” . Money from abortion rights supporters is pouring in, largely from outside the state, and after Roe’s fall there was a surge in voter numbers in the state. TV and radio commercials are on the air. The mass mailings are going out. Yards are thriving with signs urging “Vote yes” or “Vote no.” The district is preparing for a strong turnout.
But despite all the new energy and attention being put into saving abortion in Kansas, it’s hard not to feel like the reproductive rights side is a little overwhelmed. The most prominent player, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, has a humble staff that seems to be constantly running across the state to this or that meeting or event. And while the group says it has a lot of volunteers, it’s not that people consistently show up in droves for recruiting events. After knocking on the door in Wyandotte County, I showed up for the start of an afternoon event in nearby Johnson County, a politically moderate, affluent suburban enclave thought to be the prime area for the anti-Amendment side. There were only a handful of people around. (I was assured an earlier event was better attended.)
This is not to belittle the yeoman’s work being done by the pro-choice forces here. But some of the challenges facing Democrats and abortion rights advocates are likely to crop up in other places as the crucial battle over abortion shifts to the state level. Legislators elsewhere are moving swiftly on the issue, including in several states where lawmakers are pushing for constitutional amendments. Just this month, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature won the first of two votes it took to introduce an amendment that would exclude abortion rights from the constitution. Kansas is just the beginning.
The Sunflower State is, of course, a very conservative place. In Kansas, there are more registered Republicans than registered Democrats, 851,882 to 495,574, according to the latest state data. Well, there are more unaffiliated voters than Democrats. The last Democrat Kansans to be supported as president was Lyndon Johnson. And while two of the past three elected governors have been Democrats (including the incumbent, Laura Kelly), Republicans enjoy a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature.
Yet the views on abortion here are more nuanced than one might think. A survey conducted late last year by Fort Hays State University found that only about 20 percent of Kansans were in favor of making abortion illegal in all cases, including rape and incest. More than 62 percent said women are “in a better position” than politicians to make decisions about whether or not to have an abortion, and a wafer-thin majority agreed that the Kansas state government should not regulate abortion. have to set.
Opponents of abortion are not going to lose this fight because of such annoying nuances. And the Republican-controlled legislature has strategically—one might even say sinisterly—arranged the details of the election to improve their chances of victory. In particular, rather than putting the amendment to the November general election vote, they urged the special election vote to be held at the same time as the primary in August, when turnout tends to be dramatically lower. This timing also hurts the state’s unusually large population of unaffiliated voters, who make up nearly 30 percent of the electorate. These voters are typically barred from most races on the primary ballot and may not realize they are even allowed to vote on the amendment.
But wait, there’s more! The language of most legislation is often cumbersome and opaque. But the Value Them Both amendment is confusing and misleading. It refers to government funding of abortions and specifies that lawmakers may “pass laws related to abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that take into account circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances necessary to support the life of save the mother. So does this mean laws that would protect access to abortion under such circumstances or laws that would prohibit it even in those cases? That’s up to the legislators. But if you read through the text, you might think that the amendment is intended to strengthen certain abortion rights or simply maintain the status quo. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)
The anti-abortion side claims the aim of the amendment is to put the abortion issue back in the hands of the people of Kansas. (The effect would be a bit like a state-level version of what the U.S. Supreme Court said it was doing by killing Roe.) But this whole campaign seems to be meant to obscure and complicate the issue and to increase the number of non-Republicans voting. (The Value Them Both coalition has turned down requests to discuss these issues.) The whole process smacks less of returning power to the people than of contempt for them and for the democratic process—a trend that many of the GOP
Simply educating voters about the when, who, how and why of the impending vote is one of the major challenges facing reproductive rights advocates. Much of it comes down to volunteers working long hours on telephone benches or, better yet, trudging from door to door in the relentless summer heat of Kansas. Mrs. Haas, Mrs. Bruno-Valdez and their fellow travelers are working overtime.
They have to. They are fighting a tough battle against a well-organized, well-funded anti-abortion movement with the infrastructure and resources to fight where it is needed. Catholic churches have thrown their weight — and money — behind the amendment. The Archdiocese of Kansas City donated $500,000 and the Wichita Diocese $250,000. (Church advocacy is allowed for an unbiased ballot measure.) Last month, the national organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America raked in $1.3 million. The group boasted that its student volunteers, from across the country, have already knocked on 150,000 doors.
There is support from outside the state for both sides. But in red and purple states, as we see in Kansas, the reproductive rights side has to be extra careful to avoid the perception that it has been hijacked by elitist, left-wing outsiders. A hot topic among the amendment’s supporters is that the “radical left” and “coastalites” are trying to ram their values down the throats of sensible, moderate Kansans. They also warn that as nearby states (Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas) reduce access to abortion, Kansas will increasingly become an abortion destination. This may sound like a good thing for reproductive rights fans in blue states, but it’s a message that abortion enemies are betting that many moderates in Kansas will be upset. The people of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom keep the messages focused on the rights of Kansans and emphasize everything new local volunteers who have signed up in recent weeks.
As Election Day approaches, this becomes an increasingly intense, complicated battle. Reproductive rights advocates in other states would do well to keep an eye on the action. Soon, an equally intense, complicated battle may be headed their way.