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Voters in Kansas decide to keep abortion legal in the state, rejecting an amendment

Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an abortion rights supporter who was a Republican and is now a Democrat, reacts as a referendum to strip abortion rights out of the state constitution fails.
Danielle Kurtzleben
/
NPR
Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an abortion rights supporter who was a Republican and is now a Democrat, reacts as a referendum to strip abortion rights out of the state constitution fails.

Updated August 3, 2022 at 2:18 AM ET

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Voters in Kansas rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment Tuesday that would have said there was no right to an abortion in the state, according to The Associated Press.

Kansas was the first state to vote on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson's Women's Health Organization.

President Joe Biden hailed Tuesday's vote and called on Congress to pass a law to restore nationwide abortion rights that were provided by Roe.

"This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions," Biden said in a statement.

Kansas For Constitutional Freedom, the main abortion rights group opposing the amendment, called the victory "huge and decisive."

"The people of Kansas have spoken," said Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for the group. "They think that abortion should be safe, legal and accessible in the state of Kansas."

This year, a record number of abortion questions will be on state ballots, and many are asking Kansas' decision Tuesday will be an indicator of what is to come.

In the lead-up to the vote, supporters of the amendment argued that it was necessary to correct what they say was the Kansas Supreme Court's overreach in striking down some of the state's previous abortion restrictions in 2019.

Opponents argued that the amendment would set state lawmakers up to pursue a total abortion ban.

An overwhelming victory

Struggling to speak after the race was called, 23-year-old Jae Moyer said the decisive victory in the red state was surprising.

"It's never looked like this in Kansas," Moyer said. "It's so amazing. I'm so proud of my state right now."

Planned Parenthood donated millions of dollars to the opposition effort.

"Anti-abortion politicians put this amendment on the primary ballot with the goal of low voter turnout," said Emily Wales of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, "but they discounted Kansans, who said loud and clear they believe and trust patients to make their own medical decisions."

Access to abortion in Kansas remains limited. The state has only four clinics where abortions remain available, all in the Wichita and Kansas City areas.

That leaves many Kansans in the western part of the state hundreds of miles away from abortion care. Many are closer to abortion providers in other states, like Colorado.

Trust Women, which operates two of the clinics in Kansas, said it will continue providing abortion care while also working to expand access throughout the state.

"We cannot be content with the status quo," the organization said. "The loss of Roe has brought with it an unprecedented and manufactured health care crisis that is not solved by this election."

Abortion opponents say they are not done

Kansans For Life, a major political group that opposes abortion rights, said in a news release that the vote is a temporary setback and the organization remains dedicated to continuing its work opposing abortion.

"While the outcome is not what we hoped, our movement and campaign have proven our resolve and commitment," the organization said. "We will not abandon women and babies."

But it's unclear what else can be done to further restrict abortion in Kansas.

Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, who supported sending the amendment to voters, said abortion opponents will need to look at new restrictions to try to decrease the number of abortions in the state.

"The defeat this evening is disappointing," she said. "That struggle for truth, and the struggle for life, is going to continue in the state of Kansas."

Republicans, for the most part, remained quiet before Tuesday and wouldn't say how far they wanted to restrict abortion access if the amendment passed.

Kansas' abortion restrictions already include limiting abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy to cases where the pregnant person's life is in danger. The state also requires an ultrasound before a procedure.

Those restrictions would have remained in place whether the amendment passed or failed. The vote in this red state may be a sign of what's to come in other abortion votes around the country later this year.

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3

Dylan Lysen
Laura Ziegler began her career at KCUR as a reporter more than 20 years ago. She became the news director in the mid 1980's and in 1988, went to National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. as a producer for Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.
Blaise Mesa