Voters in Kansas on Tuesday rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the GOP-dominated legislature to ban abortion, a stunning victory for reproductive-rights advocates in a region where the procedure was already nearly impossible to access.
Backers of the amendment—a campaign largely largely funded by the Catholic Church in the state—took pains to argue it was not in and of itself a ban on abortion. Some experts and advocates disagreed, and both local officials and outside observers said turnout appeared to be far higher than expected in a typical primary-day contest, a reflection of the high stakes.
“You could read it and think you were voting to eliminate state funding of abortion when there is no state funding to abortion,” Neal Allen, a political scientist at Wichita State University, told Vox of the amendment. “And there is language that refers to exceptions to preserve the health of the mother, and for rape and incest, but there’s nothing about the amendment itself that would create those exceptions.”
The campaign was rattled in the final hours by a misleading mass text message—eventually blocked by the service used to put it out—that suggested a yes vote on the amendment was a vote for the right to choose.
But backers of the idea that the state constitution protects bodily autonomy won the day. Despite Republican control in the Kansas legislature, the result complicates the path ahead for anti-abortion types in a state where the procedure is legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy—and was sure to resonate in capitols across the country.
The amendment’s failure also brings Kansas full circle after it became an anti-abortion flashpoint in 1991. During the so-called Summer of Mercy, hardcore activists waged a concerted campaign against abortion, blockading clinics and rattling providers. The state has a long history of extremist activity on the issue, culminating in the murder of Dr. George Tiller at his Wichita church in 2009.
But a ruling three years ago by the state’s high court effectively enshrined the right to privacy—and to abortion—in Kansas jurisprudence. That 2019 decision, in turn, sparked the failed amendment campaign.
Now, millions of women facing bans in nearby states like Missouri and Texas will—efforts by their own officials to stop them not withstanding—still be able to seek access to the procedure in Kansas.