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Pro-life disappointment in Kansas

Supporters of a pro-life amendment in Kansas say widespread misinformation following the Dobbs decision contributed to its defeat


Hannah Joerger, left, Amanda Grosserode, center, and Mara Loughman at a Value Them Both watch party on Aug. 2 in Overland Park, Kan. Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Riedel

Pro-life disappointment in Kansas

Pro-lifers in Kansas and across the country got a harsh wake-up call last week. Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have clarified that the state Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion or the funding of abortion. According to the unofficial results, the Value Them Both Amendment lost with 59 percent of voters opposing it.

In a state that traditionally votes majority Republican, the outcome was a major upset. Pro-lifers attribute the results to the widespread misinformation about pro-life laws since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The results send an important message to pro-lifers in other states, where voters will consider abortion-related ballot measures in November.

Brittany Jones, spokeswoman for the Kansas Value Them Both Coalition, said she and her colleagues had been confident in the amendment’s success. The effort had been in the works since the state Supreme Court declared in 2019 that the Kansas constitution guarantees a right to abortion—a ruling that has stymied pro-life legislation ever since. Jones, also director of policy for Kansas Family Voice, helped write the language. She and her team hoped to get the measure on the ballot in 2020, but it failed in the Kansas legislature that year. In January 2021, lawmakers approved it for the 2022 ballot. “There was never a doubt in my mind that it would pass,” Jones said.

But she said she first got a hint that something wasn’t right while at her own polling location at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning. For a small precinct, it was busy, and some of the people in front of her were unaffiliated voters who had come to only vote on the amendment. Demographically, they were people in their 50s who she would have assumed would cast a pro-life vote. But she said they seemed angry, and that made her nervous.

That evening, when the results came in from the first precinct, she realized that the amendment was going to fail: the numbers from a precinct that should have overwhelmingly voted pro-life were not what they should have been. Precincts in western Kansas rolled in too, and those showed majority support for the amendment, but she noticed the turnout there was low. The hundreds of “yes” votes in the western counties wouldn’t be enough to counteract the thousands of “no” votes from the more abortion-friendly counties surrounding Topeka and Kansas City, areas that voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Kansas voters turned out in record numbers, with almost half of all registered voters weighing in on the ballot measure. In the 2020 primary, only 34 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls, up from 27 percent in 2018’s primary. Turnout at this year’s primary was comparable to a midterm general election, but the results did not fall along normal party lines. Counties that overwhelmingly opposed the pro-abortion Biden administration in the 2020 presidential election opposed the pro-life amendment. In Miami County, where just 29 percent of voters in 2020 voted for Biden, 52 percent of voters voted “no.”

Jones said unaffiliated voters had a big effect on the final result but added that they also lost some key Republican votes. “We lost some of those more moderate Republicans, who bought the lie that this was some sort of ban, or that this would lead to the banning of some sort of other treatment,” said Jones.

She attributed the loss in large part to the widespread misinformation and paranoia following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June. Since the Supreme Court released that ruling, pro-abortion groups and mainstream media have promoted stories about women in pro-life states who have been unable to receive medical treatment in life-threatening pregnancies or people who aren’t pregnant but can’t get necessary prescriptions filled for drugs that can also be used in chemical abortions—even laws protecting unborn babies from abortion don’t ban such treatment.

Homes in Miami County received a four-page mailer from the pro-abortion Kansans for Constitutional Freedom that told the story of Kelsey Walker, mother of two, who aborted her baby because it had “a deadly condition.” The mailer urged readers to “Vote NO on the Ban,” saying that the amendment would allow the government to “ban abortion completely, putting lives like Kelsey’s at risk.”

“The abortion industry wanted to talk about everything but abortion. So they planted all of these [concerns] about IVF, about contraceptives, about ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. … That’s what scared our people,” said Jones. “And even though they’re completely separate questions, we just never cut through that noise.”

She said that the opposition’s work of framing the measure as a total abortion ban also didn’t help. But even pro-life supporters of the amendment say the language was easy for opponents to misconstrue. Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, acknowledged that voters often don’t read language closely, making it easier to misunderstand longer amendments like this one, which was almost 90 words.

Dr. Michael New, an associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, pointed out that a more focused ballot question—such as whether the state should fund abortions through Medicaid or whether abortion should be prohibited after a certain gestational age—would have been more likely to succeed. Those, he said, are harder for the other side to demonize. But, he added that Dobbs’ decision may have caught the organizers off guard.

Jones confirmed as much: the Kansas legislature approved the ballot measure months before the Supreme Court agreed to take up the Dobbs case, and she and her colleagues wrote the language of the amendment at least a year before that. “We were in a very different legal landscape, very different legislative landscape,” she said.

Other states will also consider abortion-related ballot measures this fall: some states will weigh measures to add abortion as a right in their state constitutions, while voters in Kentucky will vote on an amendment similar to the one that failed in Kansas. Jones said she thinks the Kansas vote happening so soon after the Dobbs decision put Kansas in a “unique moment,” and added that Tuesday’s results in Kansas could be an important lesson for Kentuckians.

“I’m not gonna say that every state is like Kansas, but I think Kentucky is more like Kansas than Kentucky would like to think that it is,” said Jones, pointing to the tendency in both states to vacillate between Democratic and Republican. Both states have Republican legislatures and Democratic governors. Her advice to Kentucky is to address the pro-abortion misinformation early “and be clear.”

As for pro-lifers in Kansas, Jones said they’ll be looking at ways to support pregnancy centers legislatively as they figure out a new legal strategy to work to reverse the 2019 state Supreme Court ruling. “But for now,” said Jones, “we are preparing to be a state like New York and California.”


Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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