Abortion is on the ballot in Kansas today. The outcome could be the country’s bellwether for reproductive rights

August 2, 2022, 7:57 PM UTC
A "Vote Here" sign is displayed outside Leawood City Hall in Leawood, Kansas.

Following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, “trigger laws” in multiple states went into effect that restricted abortion access. 

Now, with voters poised to decide whether to limit abortions in other states, the map of reproductive care access may be redrawn again. 

First up, on Tuesday, is Kansas, where voters will weigh in during a primary election on an amendment to the state’s constitution that would limit abortion access. The outcome will serve as an early signal for how Roe’s overturn has motivated voters on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Kansas is an interesting test case,” Heather Shumaker, director of state abortion access at the National Women’s Law Center, told Fortune. She points out that it’s surprising for a constitutional amendment to be on the ballot during a primary election, when voter turnout is typically lower than it is during a general election. No other state has an abortion-related measure on its primary ballot.

During the last Kansas primary election in 2020, voter turnout was only about half of what it was for the general election later in the year

Ashley All, a spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a bipartisan organization focused on protecting the rights of Kansans to make “personal healthcare decisions,” told Fortune that the amendment’s presence on the primary ballot “is highly unusual.” 

“I think it will tell us how this issue motivates voters,” says All. In Kansas, registered Republican voters make up 44% of the electorate, she says, while unaffiliated voters outnumber registered Democrats at 30% to 26%, respectively. The results of today’s election, as a result, will provide insight into how the issue of reproductive rights influences those unregistered voters.

“I’ve worked in politics in Kansas for 18 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the energy, the lines, especially in a primary that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, culminating in this past weekend and today,” says All.

If ultimately passed, the amendment would counter a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that affirmed abortion access as part of an individual’s right to personal automony. In the state’s 2020 general election, the Republican Party won the majority in both state houses allowing for the amendment to reach Tuesday’s ballot. 

The text of the proposed amendment states: “Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”

The pro-life coalition Value Them Both, composed of the organizations Kansas Family Voice, Kansans for Life, and the Kansas Catholic Conference, advocated for the amendment’s place on the ballot. The coalition did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

While the amendment would not outright ban abortion, it would position the state government to supercede its previous state Supreme Court decision in order to pass abortion-restrictive legislation. 

“It would make toothless any right to abortion in the state,” says Shumaker about the amendment. Abortion access is already significantly limited in the Kansas, with any abortions performed 22 weeks after conception banned. 

Later this year, voters in Kentucky will cast ballots for a similar measure that Kansas voters are deciding on today. Meanwhile, voters in California and Vermont will decide whether to protect abortion access under state law. 

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.

Read More

Biden AdministrationUkraine InvasionInflationEnergyCybersecurity