Want to Protect Abortion? Look to Kansas

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

Updated on August 3, 2022 at 2:11 p.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. 

On Aug. 2, Kansas voters will decide whether or not to amend the Kansas Constitution to explicitly state that nothing in it creates a right to abortion. If passed, the amendment would allow the state legislature to pass laws banning and restricting abortion.

The activists behind the amendment are attempting to overturn a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision, Hodes & Nauser v. Derek Schmidt, in which the court ruled the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects a woman’s access to abortion. The court concluded that the right to personal autonomy is fundamental and governmental regulation of abortion is constitutional only if it passes a test of strict scrutiny.

The so-called ‘Value Them Both’ Amendment would overturn this precedent, paving the way for stricter abortion regulations. One state legislator has already introduced a bill to totally ban abortions, which would make it a felony to receive or perform an abortion and provide no exception for the life of the mother.

This would not only be a disaster for Kansans, but also for Americans in surrounding states.

According to a spokesperson at Kansas’ Trust Women health clinic, already 60 percent of their patients are from out of state. Planned Parenthood is seeing similar numbers—even prior to Roe’s reversal, half of all their patients came from Missouri. Currently, they are planning to open a new abortion clinic in Kansas City to help increase capacity.

If anti-abortion extremists are successful in passing the constitutional amendment in Kansas, millions of Americans will be left in an “abortion desert.”

While Kansas’ constitution protects abortion, the state still has restrictive policies curtailing how Kansans can access reproductive healthcare. But, unlike in many of the surrounding states, abortion is not banned.

If anti-abortion extremists are successful in passing the constitutional amendment in Kansas, millions of Americans will be left in an ‘abortion desert.’

I live in Massachusetts, but my daughter was born in Texas. I spent three years fighting Texas’ draconian abortion ban before moving. I’m lucky that Massachusetts protects abortion rights, but that will not help Americans across the country. 

As people from a protected state, it is our obligation as pro-choice Americans to support the people fighting on the frontline however we can. The fight raging in Kansas will have repercussions for millions of people and we should put our money where our beliefs are. I encourage you to donate or get involved with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom—a bipartisan coalition of reproductive rights advocates and allied organizations committed to protecting the constitutional rights of Kansans to make personal healthcare decisions free from government interference.

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Saatvik Ahluwalia is a digital director at Progress Texas and Austin Asian Civic Communities Coalition. He is also a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project. His work has been covered in the Boston Globe, Austin American-Statesman, Austin NPR, VISIBLE Magazine, and more.