On August 2, Kansas voters whether to amend the state constitution to say it does not include a right to abortion. Nearly 60 percent voted against the measure, affirming that a majority of Kansans support abortion access.
The measure was part of a primary ballot, which are closed in Kansas. Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas, and primaries are typically not well-attended. The Kansas secretary of state’s office was predicting around 36 percent turnout, but the state ended up having an unprecedented primary turnout of about 50 percent. According to the New York Times, there were a total of 908,745 votes. This is higher than the primary turnout in 2020, in the midst of a presidential election cycle. It is higher, even, than the 2014 general election turnout.
“The vote,” according to NPR, “preserves access to abortion in Kansas and serves as a rebuke to the regional trend of states significantly restricting access.” Abortion is currently legal 22 weeks into pregnancy, making Kansas a haven as neighboring states set the most restrictive laws in the country.
The resounding 18-point margin came as a surprise in a state that carried a 15-point margin for Trump in the 2020 election. Rachel Sweet, who led the campaign for the bill’s defeat, said the victory was won through a bipartisan appeal. This was the first of six abortion-related initiatives on the ballot this year. The other states voting on the issue are California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont.
About $6 million was spent on advertising for each side of the issue. The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for nearly two-thirds of funds supporting the restrictive measure, with one of the largest donations being $2.45 million from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Kansas City, Kansas. Church advocacy is allowed in Kansas for nonpartisan ballot measures. Value Them Both was the largest contributor in favor of the amendment, raising $4.69 million.
On the other side of the ledger, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom — where Rachel Sweet is the campaign manager — contributed largely to the huge turnout in a deep-red state. It received many of their donations from groups and individuals who prioritize access to healthcare, raising $6.54 million. Among the largest donors were Sixteen Thirty Fund, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
Governor Laura Kelly won the Democratic primary with 94 percent of the votes and will face Republican challenger Derek Schmidt, the state’s attorney general, in November. In a press release following the Dobbs decision, Schmidt expressed his opposition to abortion access.
Election analysis by The New York Times observed: “The rejection of the amendment has as much to do with lukewarm support in the reddest counties as it does with strong opposition in the bluest ones.” With unexpectedly high voter turnout, Kansans made clear their affirmation of abortion rights.