TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — 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 conservative Legislature to further restrict or ban abortion.
The referendum on the proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution is being closely watched as a barometer of liberal and moderate voters’ anger over the June ruling overturning the nationwide right to abortion. But the outcome might not reflect broader sentiments about the issue in the country as a whole, given how conservative Kansas is and how twice as many Republicans as Democrats have voted in its August primaries over the past decade.
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.
Abortion rights advocates expect the Legislature to ban abortion if the ballot measure passes, and the state saw a surge in early voting with an electorate more Democratic than usual.
“At what level does the insanity stop?” said Eric Sheffler, a 60-year-old retired Army officer and Democrat who cast a “no” vote early in the Kansas City suburbs. “What will they try to control next?”
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.
An anonymous group has sent a misleading text to Kansas voters telling them to “vote yes” in order to protect choice. The Kansas City Star reported the text message went to voters across the state, including former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the main “vote no” campaign, called the text an example of “desperate and deceitful tactics.”
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.