OLATHE, Kan.—Kansas voters went to the polls Tuesday to consider a proposed state constitutional amendment that would end abortion protections, the first referendum on the issue since the Supreme Court struck down abortion rights in federal level.
If the amendment passes during the Kansas primary, it would allow the state legislature to ban or impose tighter restrictions on the process.
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The referendum, planned for months, comes after the June 24 Supreme Court ruling Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said the US Constitution does not protect the right to abortion. The decision, which upheld abortion restrictions in Mississippi, overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade which recognized abortion as a constitutional right.
Since the ruling, about a dozen states have implemented new abortion restrictions and more are expected, while other states are moving to add new protections for the procedure. In some states like Kansas, the future of abortion remains uncertain, and both sides are looking to Tuesday’s primaries for clues about where voters stand on the issue after Dobbs.
The Kansas primary, usually a sleepy affair, has become the focus of intense campaigning, with supporters and opponents of the amendment spending millions and making emotional appeals to voters through television ads, billboards and door-knocking efforts.
Outside a polling place at Journey Bible Church in Olathe, Lisa Liebelt, a 50-year-old who voted for the amendment with her husband and two children, said pollsters supporting the amendment at one point during the campaign they ambushed her on her way to make sure she got their literature. “I’ve known the seriousness of this for a long time,” he said.
Megan Duckers, a 50-year-old personal assistant, came out with her husband and nephew to oppose the amendment. “I just want to make sure the right is upheld,” she said, adding that she was nervous but optimistic about the outcome. “Kansas surprised me in a good way in the last election, so I think we might pull it off.”
Turnout appeared strong in Johnson County, Kansas’ largest.
“It only takes one question there that gets everyone excited, but the whole idea is that the more people vote the better. This is the way the system is supposed to work,” said Salvatore Migliazzo, supervising judge at the Oak Park Library polling station in Overland Park.
In a normal August primary, Mr. Migliazzo said, the site would see 300 or 400 voters, but by 4 p.m., more than 800 people had already cast ballots. “We had a long line to start in the morning,” he said. “We got it under control, but it was just steady. A much larger number than we thought we would have.”
The Value Them Both Coalition, which opposes abortion and supports the constitutional amendment, has raised about $4.7 million this year. The group has run ads warning that if the amendment fails, Kansas could become an abortion haven, as many of the state’s neighbors have banned most abortions.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which supports abortion rights and opposes the amendment, has raised about $6.5 million this year. The group sought to paint the abortion restrictions as a government mandate that interferes with private medical decisions.
Other states, including Michigan, California and Kentucky, are likely to have measures on the ballot in November that propose either weakening or strengthening abortion protections.
The vote in Kansas is expected to be close. A poll released July 19 by Co/efficient, a Kansas City-based data analytics firm, found that 47 percent of likely primary voters planned to vote for the amendment, while 43 percent said they planned to reject it. vote against.
A significant number of Kansans have already voted.
In early voting, 271,438 votes had been cast as of Monday morning, either in person or by mail, with Republicans casting 122,677 and Democrats 106,800, according to a tweet from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.
Last week, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab predicted in a news release that about 36 percent of Kansas voters would participate in the primary, compared to 34.2 percent in 2020 and 27.1 percent in 2018. The increased participation, he said, is due to the competition races and the interest of voters in the amendment.
The proposed amendment comes in response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution protects the right to personal autonomy, including the right to an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates are hoping for Kansas-like decisions in other states now that Roe v. Wade no longer exists, and the issue of abortion becomes primarily a matter for state courts.
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