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After Kansas, is the pro-life movement stalled?

The vote is a real setback, but the battle for life must go on

In Overland Park, Kan., voters listen to a speaker at an election watch party for Value Them Both, a group that favored the pro-life constitutional amendment. Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Riedel

After Kansas, is the pro-life movement stalled?

On Tuesday, a vote on a constitutional amendment that would have overturned the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling declaring a right to abortion was overwhelmingly defeated. The proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution was made necessary by a 2019 state supreme court ruling that the state’s constitution included a right to abortion. As a result, despite the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, the citizens of Kansas will only be permitted to regulate abortion to the extent allowed by the state’s unelected judges.

The vote garnered national media attention as the first major battle over abortion in post-Roe America. As the result became clear, political pundits took to social media to pronounce its broader political significance. Dave Wasserman, U.S. House editor of the Cook Political Report, tweeted, “It’s possible the margin for ‘No’ in red Kansas will be a resounding double digits, a sign of just how unpopular overturning Roe v. Wade is nationally.”

What happened in Kansas? Will the Dobbs decision blunt the anticipated “red wave” this November? What lessons should pro-lifers take away from the result?

National political reports and pundits often refer to Kansas with the qualifier “red” or “deep red.” Beware such laziness. While it’s true that Republicans enjoy a roughly 2-1 advantage in voter registration, the true nature of Kansas politics is not so black-and-white. For years, three major political constituencies have shaped the state’s electorate: conservatives, moderates, and progressives. Because Republicans enjoy such a large registration advantage (“unaffiliated” voters actually outnumber Democrats in voter registration), moderates tend to affiliate with the Republican Party. Successful campaigns and policy fights have been those that successfully built a coalition made up of two of the three.

Laura Kelly, the state’s sitting governor, is a Democrat. In fact, since 1957, Kansas has had six Democratic governors and seven Republican governors and neither party has held the governorship for more than two consecutive terms. Of the state’s four congressional districts, three are held by Republicans, but the most populous and fastest growing is held by Democrat Sharice Davids. Kansas is more politically moderate than national media lets on.

According to data from the Kansas Secretary of State, 463,592 Republicans voted for one of the two candidates in the Republican Senate primary race on the same ballot as the constitutional amendment, but “YES” received a total of just 374,611 votes. That means at least 89,000 Republicans either voted “NO” or abstained.

Polling on abortion is all about how you ask the question. Generally speaking, a majority of Americans will say they favor legal abortion with restrictions. Bill Clinton’s famous “safe, legal, and rare” was a position calibrated for the general electorate then and it remains so today.

The opponents of the pro-life amendment successfully scare mongered voters with extreme claims about its possible implications. For example, a relative told me that one canvasser knocked on her door and claimed that voting yes would lead to laws requiring doctors to re-implant ectopic pregnancies.

Opponents deviously attacked the amendment with appeals to conservative voters, too. A statewide TV ad claimed that the amendment was a “government mandate” that would lead to “more government control over medical decisions.” “Kansans don’t want another government mandate” the narrator says while the screen displays a sign requiring mask wearing due to COVID and a church sign reading “ALL MASSES CANCELLED.”

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing” is axiomatic in politics. Unsurprisingly, those fighting to kill unborn children are not constrained by truth-telling, and proponents of the amendment were not able to push back against these falsehoods.

When organizers decided to put the amendment on the ballot in August 2022, they did not know that the Supreme Court would have overturned Roe v. Wade a month earlier or that the election would be the first opportunity for pro-abortion advocates to rage against that decision. Politicians often make the mistake of thinking too much of their own role in their success, when in reality their fate is often determined by larger forces carrying them into or out of office. Is this a leading indicator of Dobbs blowback come November? Perhaps, but not nearly to the extent abortion proponents hope. On this question, Kansas was a perfect storm.

Dobbs was not the end of the fight for life, it was a new beginning. There will be wins and there will be setbacks, but we press on towards the goal knowing that faithfulness is the measure of our success and confident that in the end we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Clearly, we have more work to do.

Eric Teetsel

Eric Teetsel is the former president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.

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