Kansas voters will decide on a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that will determine the future of abortion rights in their state – the first time in the United States that voters will vote on abortion since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v . Wade last month.
A ballot question, known as the “Value Them Both” Amendment, asks voters to decide whether the state Constitution should continue to protect abortion rights. The proposed amendment to the state Constitution would remove language that guarantees reproductive rights and asks voters if they would rather put the issue of abortion in the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature — a an outcome that abortion advocates say is almost certain to result in the elimination or restriction of these rights.
A “yes” vote on the measure would remove the right to abortion from the state constitution and send the issue to the state legislature. A “no” vote on the measure would bring no change, keeping abortion rights enshrined in the state constitution.
Anti-abortion activists argue that the Kansas ballot issue creates an opportunity to put the issue in the hands of voters through the state’s elected lawmakers. Abortion rights supporters warn that approving the ballot measure would almost certainly result in the elimination or reduction of existing rights in a state that has more lenient laws on its books compared to many of its neighbors.
“With the reversal of federal abortion rights, Kansas lawmakers are saying, ‘We need to change our state constitution so that it no longer protects abortion rights, so we can move forward. before and ban or restrict abortion now that we are legally permitted to do so'”. Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that promotes reproductive rights, said in a recent interview. “If the Kansas Constitution is no longer deemed to explicitly protect the right to abortion, an abortion ban would pass through the legislature.”
The ballot issue has been slated for more than a year, but has taken on greater prominence in the weeks since the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, ending the federal constitutional right to abortion.
Early voting in the state began in mid-July, and the office of the Kansas secretary of state reported that as of Tuesday, more than twice as many people had already voted early as at the same time during of the last midterm primary election in 2018.
Tuesday’s vote on the measure is expected to be close.
Although polls have been sparse, the Kansas City-based firm co/efficient found in a July survey that 47% of those polled said they planned to vote “yes” on the issue of removing the right to abortion of the Constitution and let the legislature decide. on abortion rights, while 43% said they planned to vote “no”. Ten percent were undecided. Groups on both sides of the issue have blanketed the Kansas airwaves with millions of dollars worth of ads.
The measure seeks to replace a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the state Constitution guarantees the right to have an abortion. This would allow the state legislature to pass laws restricting or prohibiting abortion.
Abortion rights advocates have claimed that several factors stand in the way of them, including the wording of the ballot question and the timing of its placement.
On the one hand, they expressed concern that the ballot measure features language they say is intentionally designed to confuse voters. For example, the language used on the ballot says that a “yes” vote on the question would affirm that “the Kansas state constitution does not require government funding of abortion” – even if such requirement does not exist – “and does not create or guarantee a right to abortion”. A “yes” vote would affirm that “the people, through their elected representatives and ‘abortion,’ which lawmakers are limited to doing now based on the 2019 court ruling.
Abortion rights advocates support a “no” vote on the measures, which doesn’t change the status quo.
Abortion rights advocates have also expressed concern that putting the issue to voters in a primary instead of the general election would dramatically reduce turnout from voters more likely to support reproductive rights – although that the Secretary of State’s early voting figures suggest that may not be the case.
Additionally, they also noted that unaffiliated voters in the state — who are not allowed to vote in primaries for the two major political parties — may not realize that they can still vote on the issue of ballot.
“Everything about how this effort was designed was done in a way that obscures that end goal,” Ashley All, spokeswoman for Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, an abortion rights group that has helped to lead efforts to oppose the amendment, NBC News told NBC News in a recent interview.
Abortion rights supporters have argued that with Roe gone, the stakes are far too high to put the issue in the hands of state GOP lawmakers. They point to several recently proposed bills that would restrict or ban abortion — including one introduced in March — that they say will likely be reintroduced in future state legislative sessions if the Kansas ballot initiative is successful. .
Conversely, opponents of abortion maintain that it is more democratic for the question to be decided by the voters, via their representatives. Many reject the idea that they seek more restrictive abortion laws.
“It’s not an abortion ban,” Republican state Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger, a supporter of the initiative that helped secure it in the August ballot, told NBC News. “I’m a fan of the fact that each state has its own abortion regulations. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s now the right of each state, and I think it’s up to each legislature to state to decide what is best for their state,” she added.
Abortion in Kansas is legal until around the 22nd week of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Under state law, women who seek abortion care are subject to several regulations such as a 24-hour waiting period between seeking consultation and receiving the procedure and parental consent. for minors.
Yet the rules are far less restrictive than those in neighboring states. In Missouri and Oklahoma, laws took effect almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling in late June that effectively banned nearly all abortion care in those states.
At least 22 states have already banned or will soon ban abortion. The new landscape makes Kansas a regional outlier and a safe haven for in-state and out-of-state women seeking abortion care — but that could diminish or disappear if the measure is adopted.