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‘Reproductive freedom is a winning issue’: National abortion groups hail Kansas win

Aug. 3, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 3, 2022 at 9:39 p.m.

Iman Alsaden, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Kelsey Rhodes, of Kansas City, hug as they and Kansans for Constitutional Freedom supporters celebrate a victory at the polls Tuesday in Overland Park  (Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNS)
Iman Alsaden, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Kelsey Rhodes, of Kansas City, hug as they and Kansans for Constitutional Freedom supporters celebrate a victory at the polls Tuesday in Overland Park (Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNS)
By Alex Roarty McClatchy Washington Bureau

National abortion-rights advocates hailed the surprise results of the Kansas constitutional referendum Tuesday, arguing that the victory for their side proves that even red-state voters reject outright banning access to abortions.

It’s another sign, they say, that the issue will be a major factor across the country during this year’s midterm elections.

“In the heartland of the United States, protecting abortion access is galvanizing voters like never before, and that mobilization is only just beginning,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “Reproductive freedom is a winning issue, now and in November.”

Tuesday’s vote was the first major electoral test for the abortion rights movement since the Supreme Court in June revoked the constitutional right to an abortion.

The referendum asked voters to support or oppose adding an anti-abortion amendment to the state’s constitution, which, if successful, would have nullified a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that established a right to the procedure. State lawmakers would then be allowed to approve new abortion restrictions, including an outright ban like the one in neighboring Missouri.

The vote was closely watched across the country, with both political sides looking to it for clues over how the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, could affect the upcoming elections in November.

Progressives said Tuesday’s results make clear the issue is a winning one for them.

“Make no mistake, abortion is on the ballot across the country in November, and voters will be holding Republicans accountable for their efforts to strip us of our rights – the success of blocking this anti-abortion ballot initiative is proof of that,” said Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY’s List, in a statement. “Voters will not stand by while Republicans play politics with our bodies and our futures.”

EMILY’s List, a well-funded national organization, supports female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights. It has endorsed Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, who herself again won the party’s gubernatorial nomination during Tuesday’s primary.

National political organizations took a heavy interest in Kansas ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Officials with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said late last month that it and its affiliated political action committee had made a quarter-million visits to the homes of prospective voters and spent more than a $1 million promoting the referendum, including on digital ads.

In a statement, the conservative group called the loss a “huge disappointment” that could enable the state become a place of “unrestricted abortion on demand.”

“The stakes for the pro-life movement in the upcoming midterm elections could not be higher, and there will be many more factors in play,” said Mallory Carroll, spokeswoman for SBA Pro-Life America. “It is critical that pro-life candidates go on offense to expose the extremism of Democrats’ policy goals for nationalized abortion on demand paid for by taxpayers.”

NARAL officials said their own members in the state knocked on more than 1,200 doors, made over 30,000 phone calls, and sent over 5,000 texts to encourage this outcome.

Other abortion-rights supporters said they considered the successful Kansas referendum a “model” for how other states can protect access to abortion rights.

“As the first state to vote on abortion rights following the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas is a model for a path to restoring reproductive rights across the country through direct democracy,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement. “From Michigan to Nevada, we have the opportunity to protect abortion access at the ballot box in November. We know that Kansas will not be our last fight, or our last victory.”

Kansas voters, Johnson added, “rejected a dangerous amendment that would have let anti-abortion politicians eliminate access to essential health care.”

“They protected their right to decide what is best for their own bodies, lives, and futures,” she said. “And they made it resoundingly clear that they don’t want politicians involved in their medical decisions or abortion bans in their state.”

Abortion is expected to be a major issue in this year’s midterm election, with Democrats hoping that the public’s uneasiness about striking down Roe can help them overcome an otherwise challenging national political climate.

Republicans, for their part, point to polls that show a large share of voter want at least some restrictions on abortion and argue that overturning Roe simply lets the public, and not the courts, set reasonable limits on the procedure.

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