Kansas Voters Overwhelmingly Reject Anti-Abortion Amendment in Primary Election

Participants at the Women’s March in Topeka, Kan., on Jan. 21, 2017. (mmrogne / Flickr)

Updated on August 3, 2022 at 9:23 a.m. PDT: On August 2, Kansas primary voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Republican dominated state legislature to severely restrict access to abortion. Fifty-nine percent voted against the proposed amendment, in an election that saw a resounding turnout compared to 2018’s midterm primary. Turnout among Democrats and Independents was particularly significant, as there were no heavily contested Democratic races that would have pulled out their votes, and Independents were not allowed to vote in partisan candidate races.

Analysts say the victory, which allows abortion protections in the state constitution to remain in place, signals a larger trend of support for abortion rights even in conservative states—and indicates that abortion could be a mobilizing issue in November’s midterm elections. 

In primary and general elections this year, voters will weigh in on many state constitutional amendments impacting women’s rights, including abortion, equality, minimum wage, healthcare expansion and incarceration.

A proposed constitutional amendment on Kansas’ primary ballot in August would amend the state Bill of Rights to say there is no right to abortion or public funding for abortion, and that the state legislature has authority to pass laws restricting abortion. The amendment is a response to a 2019 state Supreme Court decision in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, which established that the Kansas Bill of Rights includes a right to abortion. The court ruled that the Kansas Constitution “affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

The amendment, if passed, would overturn the court’s ruling and allow more than 20 laws restricting abortion to stay in effect, including mandatory ultrasounds and biased counseling to discourage abortion, a 24-hour waiting period, parental consent for minors, a 20-week abortion ban, a ban on telemedicine abortion and limitations on public funding and insurance coverage for abortion

A number of CEOs really look to see what kind of inclusive policies we have in place that make it easier for them to recruit and retain a talented workforce. It will be an economic development issue for us.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D)

The amendment is supported by Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference, the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas and Democrats for Life of America. The Catholic archdioceses of Kansas City, Wichita and Oklahoma City have donated $760,000 in support of the amendment.

It’s opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, Kansas Abortion Fund, Mainstream Coalition, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes and several national groups, such as the National Association for Pregnant Women, Feminist Majority Foundation and National Women’s Law Center.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D) warned about negative economic effects if the amendment passes. “There are a number of CEOs who really look to see what kind of inclusive policies we have in place that make it easier for them to recruit and retain a talented workforce,” she said. “It will be an economic development issue for us.”

Moreover, as a Midwestern state, Kansas is an important place geographically for abortion rights. Legal abortion in Kansas is now a critical access point for people living in surrounding states that have banned abortion, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Dakota and Texas.

Kansas: Vote ‘No’!

In Kansas, the primary election is held on the first Tuesday in August of even numbered years; this year, that’s Tuesday, Aug. 2. Polling places open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. Kansas voters have the option to vote early, which opened July 13. Voters can also vote by mail; the deadline to submit advance voting applications to county election officials is July 26.

Feminist and equity-focused groups urge Kansas voters to vote “no” on the amendment.

Abortion Is on the Ballot in November Elections

In November, there will be multiple other important constitutional amendments on the ballot, including an equal rights amendment in Nevada, a personal reproductive autonomy amendment in Vermont and anti-abortion amendments in Kentucky and Montana. Ballot initiatives in five states (Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont) would repeal state constitutional language allowing for enslavement or servitude as punishment for crimes or payment of debts, damages or fines. Also on the ballot will be amendments to increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour in Nevada, to establish a constitutional right to affordable healthcare in Oregon and to expand Medicaid in South Dakota. In California, voters will have an opportunity to amend the state’s constitution to include the right to an abortion.

More measures may yet be added to ballots in the November elections. Women must get out to vote this year not only because of the many critical congressional and state races but also to vote on these important ballot issues impacting women’s rights across the country.

This article originally appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Ms. Become a member today to read more reporting like this in print and through our app.

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.