Group of people holding a sign that says, "Protect Your Rights. Vote NO on August 2."

Takeaways from Kansas

Aug 3, 2022
We must recognize that the attacks on reproductive freedom and the freedom to vote and have our voices be heard are interconnected.

By now you may have seen the results from Kansas, where a broad coalition of reproductive justice advocates, abortion providers, youth activists, faith leaders and democracy supporters came together to stop an attempt by anti-abortion extremists and special interests to take away Kansans’ state constitutional right to abortion care.

This is what reproductive freedom advocates were up against:

  • Anti-abortion extremists spent millions – much of it from the Catholic Church – on ads that disguised their true agenda: banning all abortion in Kansas;

  • They forced the vote to happen during an August primary election, when they expected fewer people would be paying attention;

  • They drafted confusing ballot language to manipulate voters;

  • They tried to erect deliberate barriers to voting by removing ballot drop boxes;

  • In the days before Election Day, Republican operatives paid for deceptive text messages to Democratic voters – including former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius! – lying about which way to cast their ballot to ensure reproductive freedom.

Grassroots organizations called out the last-minute lies—“as dirty as you can get”—and urged supporters of reproductive freedom to vote “no.”

Despite the barrage of lies and barriers to voting, turnout surged, and abortion rights supporters won by 18 percentage points—an impressive win in a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 15 percentage points.

This was a huge victory for reproductive freedom and access to abortion care—but it was also a victory for democracy and the rights of everyday people to make their voices heard on issues that are important to them.

Still, that victory could be short-lived.

The story behind this constitutional amendment was complicated, but it came about because the Kansas Supreme Court had ruled in 2019 that the state constitution protects Kansans’ right to abortion care:

“Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one's own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

In several states, including Kansas, state constitutions and state court rulings provide additional protections for access to abortion care. With the end of Roe, state courts will play a bigger role in the fight for reproductive freedom.

And anti-abortion extremists have signaled they have no plans to give up on banning abortion in Kansas. They have singled out the November elections as an opportunity to begin overturning the 2019 decision. This fall, Kansas voters will weigh in again by voting to retain six of the seven justices on the state’s highest court. Of the six justices standing for retention, five supported reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. If the justices do not succeed in winning retention, the governor—currently Laura Kelly, also up for re-election this year—will appoint their replacements from a list created by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

This system, while not perfect, has served Kansans well, ensuring the judiciary is fair and independent. Americans need independent courts to protect our essential rights and freedoms and deliver equal justice for all.

However, extremist politicians have been attacking the independence of Kansas’s judiciary for several years. The most recent example was during the 2022 legislative session, when the Senate President proposed two constitutional amendments—which would have appeared on the Aug. 2 ballot with the anti-abortion measure – to change how Kansas selects its Supreme Court justices. Fair courts advocates successfully pushed back against these proposed changes, but there is certain to be backlash to yesterday’s vote.

So it’s important to celebrate this win!

But it’s also important to stand up for fair and impartial courts.

And we must recognize that the attacks on reproductive freedom and the freedom to vote and have our voices be heard are interconnected.

The solutions for restoring our reproductive freedom and protecting our freedom to vote are interconnected, as well. By returning this issue to the states—as they did with redistricting—the US Supreme Court has sent it back to an “unlevel state playing field,” where partisan gerrymandering and big money have installed extremist legislators, who are unaccountable to the majority of voters. If we don’t deal with those problems, we can’t ensure that all people have access to the reproductive health care that they need, including access to abortion care and birth control.

We must put power back in the hands of the people by breaking the stranglehold of millionaires and billionaires and corporate special interests that use their power to divide and distract us, while they push an extremist agenda that is out of touch with the vast majority of Americans.

We aren’t truly free unless we can control our own bodies, lives, and futures. That’s why Americans must come together across race, place, and party to stop these attacks on our reproductive freedom and our freedom to vote.

Kansans have shown us the way.