Kansas voters preserve abortion access in high-turnout primary

DAVE KAUP/AFP via Getty Images

(OVERLAND PARK, Kan.) — Abortion rights opponents in Kansas vowed to keep fighting after voters here decisively rejected removing the right to abortion from the state constitution in the first state-level test since the Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections.

“This setback is not going to stop us. Our resolve has never been stronger than in this very moment,” Peter Northcott, executive director of Kansans for Life said following Tuesday’s defeat.

Coming just weeks after the Roe v. Wade decision, organizers on both sides said voters were more energized and engaged, leading to record turnout despite the issue being decided in a primary in a midterm year when numbers are historically lower.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 298,618 Kansans had cast ballots compared to the 2018 primaries during which only 89,449 had voted early, according to the Kansas secretary of state’s office.

The “Value them Both” amendment centered on a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that protected abortion under the state constitution.

If the amendment had passed, it would have given the state’s GOP-controlled legislature the power to pass new abortion restrictions.

With 99% of the expected vote counted as of 8:31 a.m. Wednesday, “No” led with 59% to “Yes” at 41%

Kansas currently permits abortions up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, although regulations include requirements for counseling, parental consent for minors, and a waiting period.

“I think that Kansas can make a statement to other states and show them that, even though we are normally Republican, we are not letting this be a political choice,” Jackie Clapper told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott while canvassing with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“We are making this to be a health care choice a right to be able to preserve your choice to make choice decisions for your own body,” she said.

Abortion rights opponents say the issue is far from settled.

“If the last 50 years haven’t shown anything we’ve been fighting we’re not going to stop fighting until every woman is supported, every every father is supported, every child is supported. There’s nobody that’s unwanted and nobody wants to ever give up,” Mary Kissel, told ABC News at the Value them Both coalition watch party.

The ballot question read, in part, “Shall the following be adopted? Regulation of abortion. Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”

It continued, “A vote for the Value Them Both Amendment would affirm there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion, and would reserve to the people of Kansas, through their elected state legislators, the right to pass laws to regulate abortion. A vote against the Value Them Both Amendment would make no changes to the constitution of the state of Kansas, and could restrict the people, through their elected state legislators, from regulating abortion by leaving in place the recently recognized right to abortion.”

Following Tuesday’s defeat, the coalition claimed “misinformation” and “confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment.”

“As our state becomes an abortion destination, it will be even more important for Kansans to support our pregnancy resource centers, post-abortive ministries, and other organizations that provide supportive care to women facing unexpected pregnancies. We will be back,” the coalition said in a statement to ABC News.

Voters waiting in line also expressed confusion about the amendment, many saying that while they eventually understood what they were voting on, they had to make an extra effort to figure it out.

Celia Maris, a Democrat who voted “no” on the proposed amendment, said she had to read the wording multiple times, saying, “I think they need to explain it because not everybody can understand the terminology.”

At the same time, she said the confusion made her want to turn out. “I made a point to come and vote today even more.”

Christine Matthews, a “yes” voter, said it wasn’t clear what the amendment would do and wouldn’t do.

“I do think that some people think that if you vote no, then you will totally go back to having a national legal abortion situation. I also think that people think if you vote “yes,” that that is just going to completely wipe out abortion completely. I know neither of those was true.”

Tuesday’s vote was seen as a bellwether in a post-Roe world and will set a precedent for other states considering similar abortion measures.

President Joe Biden used Kansas’ ballot amendment defeat to call on Congress to “listen to the will of the American people and restore the protections of Row as federal law.”

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

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.