Thursday, September 28, 2023

Kansas voted ‘no’ to constitutional amendment to curb abortion rights

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Kansans voted Tuesday against a ballot measure that would have allowed state lawmakers to further restrict access to abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it. Roe to Wade, and that could severely limit access to abortion in the region.

The measure, known as the “Appreciate them both amendment”, is said to have amended the state constitution to explicitly state that “there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas or to demand government funding for abortion.” Kansas already restricts the use of public funds for abortions to cases where federal law requires it, including those involving rape and incest, and where the life of the pregnant person is in danger.

The amendment would also have codified the state legislature’s power to pass laws regulating abortion, effectively creating a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that recognized a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision to continue her pregnancy under the state constitution.

Court ruling has helped protect abortion in Kansas: State allows proceedings until: 22 weeks of pregnancy with some limitations, including mandatory ultrasound and counseling and parental consent in cases involving minors. That makes it a destination for pregnant people wishing to have abortions from nearby states that have effectively banned or will soon have abortions, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. People in those states who would also be affected by the amendment can now continue to travel to Kansas for certain abortion procedures.

An overwhelming victory for abortion advocates despite major hurdles

Polls conducted ahead of the election suggested voters were deeply divided over the measure, which was already notable in the predominantly red state. But the actual vote wasn’t close — the referendum failed by more than 20 points as the Associated Press put it.

Spending was high on both sides of the debate, with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, an opposing amendment group and more than $6.5 million since the beginning of the year, and Value Them Both, the coalition backing the amendment about $4.7 million.

Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in the last session of the state legislature that would ban abortion, but it never gained much traction and is unlikely to happen in the future now that Kansas voters have voted down the ballot initiative. House account 2746 would have made it a crime to perform an abortion from the moment of conception, with the exception of cases of ectopic pregnancy.

Kansas lawmakers put the measure on the primary ballot, when turnout is typically lower than in November’s general election. But turnout rose Tuesday and seemed on track for the 2020 and 2018 primaries with more than 100,000 votes.

Now that voters have essentially chosen to maintain the status quo in Kansas, the topic of abortion may not take up as much oxygen in statewide races where it had become a major focal point, including the governor’s race.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly opposed the ballot measure and has said that “every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her, her family, and her doctor,” against any legislation that would interfere with those decisions. Republican nominee for governor, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, supported the amendment and said that he would “prefer a future with less abortion, not more”. He did, however, give legal opinion in July clarified that treating miscarriages, removing dead fetuses and terminating ectopic pregnancies would not be considered abortions under Kansas law.

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