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Kansas first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s demise

Kansas first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s demise


Kansas first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s demise

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas on Tuesday was holding the nation's first test of voter feelings about the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, with people throughout the state deciding whether to allow their Legislature to further restrict or ban abortion.

The referendum on the proposed pro-life amendment to the Kansas Constitution is being closely watched as a barometer of where the people of Kansas stand on abortion.

Supporters of the measure wouldn't say before the vote whether they intend to pursue a ban if it passes, but they've spent decades pushing for new restrictions on a nearly annual basis and many other states in the Midwest and South have banned abortion in recent weeks. By not stating their position, they were seeking to win over voters who favored some restrictions but not an outright ban.

Polls opened Tuesday across Kansas and election officials anticipated the abortion measure will draw more voters. Polls were busy Tuesday morning, with lines reported at some locations. Typically, primary elections in Kansas are limited to the two major parties, but unaffiliated voters can cast a vote in this election for the constitutional amendment. Advance in-person voting and mail ballots were up in the large counties of Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte counties compared to the 2018 primary election.

The Kansas measure would add language to the state constitution saying that it doesn't grant a right to abortion, which would allow lawmakers to regulate it as they see fit. Kentucky will vote in November on adding similar language to its constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question is likely headed to the November ballot in Michigan.

The Kansas measure is a response to a state Supreme Court decision in 2019 declaring that access to abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the state's Bill of Rights.

Both sides together have spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were key donors for the “no” side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the “yes” campaign.

“I just feel like people have become so nonchalant about abortion, like it’s just another method of birth control,” said Michelle Mulford, a 50-year-old Kansas City-area teacher and Republican who voted early for the proposed amendment, adding that she supports exceptions to an abortion ban for cases of rape, incest or life-threatening pregnancies.

Even though some early voters favor banning nearly all abortions, the vote yes campaign pitched its measure as a way to restore lawmakers' power to set “reasonable” abortion limits and preserve existing restrictions.

Kansas doesn't ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy. But a law that would prohibit the most common second-trimester procedure and another that would set special health regulations for abortion providers remain on hold because of legal challenges.

Stan Ellsworth, a 69-year-old Republican retiree in the Kansas City area, said the argument that voting yes means an abortion ban is “crap.”

“I haven’t talked to a single person who wants that,” he said after voting yes early in the Kansas City suburbs. "Most will accept reasonable exceptions and I think the other side knows that’s true.”