Since the Supreme Court overruled federal abortion rights last month, President Biden and other Democrats have urged Americans to elect in November more members of Congress who will support legislation protecting abortion access.
“This fall, Roe is on the ballot,” said Biden, speaking from the White House hours after the court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But for Kansas voters, abortion rights are on the ballot even sooner.
On Tuesday, Kansas will become the first state to vote on reproductive freedoms since the Supreme Court ruling.
Kansans will be able to vote on whether to amend its constitution to remove the right to abortion. A “yes” vote on the measure will remove abortion rights from the state constitution.
The proposed amendment, known as the “Value Them Both” amendment, seeks to overturn a 2019 Kansas State Supreme Court ruling that said Section 1 of Kansas’ Bill of Rights “protects a woman’s right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.”
If the amendment passes by a simple majority, the 2019 decision will be reversed.
A similar amendment is on the November ballot in Kentucky.
“The power and responsibility to decide the important and difficult questions involving regulation of abortion have been returned to the people,” said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican who is currently running for governor.
The state legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, would then be granted authority to pass laws regarding abortion rights in Kansas. The legislature would have the power to add restrictions or ban abortion in the state.
The “Value Them Both” Amendment was first proposed in 2020 but failed to receive the required two-thirds majority in the Kansas House. In 2021, the Legislature secured supermajorities to get it on the ballot.
The vote will be held during the August primary instead of the November general election. Independent voters who are not normally able to vote in Kansas’ closed primary elections will be able to vote on the “Value Them Both” Amendment next month.
Already, Kansas stands as an abortion refuge for many western and southern states. Women from Texas and Oklahoma have come to Kansas over the years in search of services at women’s health clinics in Overland Park and Wichita. Neighboring Missouri also has a near-total abortion ban.
Prominent Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have drawn attention to the amendment vote, asking her Kansan followers to vote no on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
If the amendment passes, Warren wrote on Twitter, it will “leave a huge reproductive health desert in the middle of the country.”
Other groups have also sought to shine a light on the looming vote. A bipartisan coalition of reproductive rights advocates known as Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, backed by many Kansas Democrats including Gov. Laura Kelly, started airing television ads to encourage voters to reject the measure.
“The amendment on the ballot will mandate government control of our private medical decisions and pave the way for a total ban on abortion,” said Ashley All, a spokesperson for the group in a statement to Spectrum News.
“The decision to overturn Roe reinforces just how critical it is that we stop this constitutional amendment and protect Kansans’ freedom to make personal health decisions free from government interference,” All added.
On the other side of the aisle, the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion rights group, announced in late June a $1.3 million investment in Kansas to promote passage of the amendment.
The Value them Both Coalition – led by anti-abortion groups Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference and Kansas Family voice, according to their website – has also been urging Kansans to support the measure.
After multiple requests for comment, the Value Them Both coalition referred Spectrum News to their website for statements.
“This amendment will protect bipartisan, commonsense limits on the abortion industry that have been enacted in Kansas over the last 25 years,” reads a statement on the “Value Them Both” website. “This opportunity on August 2nd will allow Kansas voters to have a voice to ensure the state does not become a permanent destination for extreme abortion procedures.”
A recent Kansas Speaks Survey released in February found that most Kansans favor some level of access to abortion, with over 60% of residents saying they oppose making abortion completely illegal in Kansas.
Just over half of those surveyed said the “Kansas government should not place any regulations on the circumstances under which women can get abortions,” compared with 25% who disagreed.
In the state’s midterm elections in November, Kansans will be casting their votes for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as a U.S. Senate race in which incumbent Republican Sen. Jerry Moran will be seeking re-election.
Additionally, all four of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs, in addition to the 125 seats in the Kansas House of Representatives.
Incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, is campaigning for re-election in 2022 in one of the most competitive statehouse races in the country.
When it comes to abortion rights, Gov. Kelly has said that she opposes “regressive legislation that interferes with individual freedoms.”
"Governor Kelly is clear that a woman’s reproductive healthcare decisions should be between her and her physician,” said campaign spokesperson Madison Andrus in an email to Spectrum News.
“She'll continue to oppose all regressive legislation that interferes with individual freedoms or threatens the strides we've made in recent years making Kansas a constructive place to do business,” Andrus said. “That includes opposing efforts to change the state constitution this August."
Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the frontrunner to face off against Kelly in November, reacted approvingly to the Dobbs ruling and has come out in support of the “Value Them Both” Amendment.
“I will join my other pro-life Kansans in casting my vote for ‘Value Them Both’,” Schmidt said, in part, in a press release, adding: “I prefer a future with less abortion, not more.”
Of the four House representatives, there are currently three Republicans and one Democrat.
Democrat Rep. Sharice Davids, who represents Kansas’ Third Congressional District, which encompasses most of the Kansas City metropolitan area, has been very vocal about her support for abortion rights.
“I will always work to protect Kansans’ rights to choose – starting by voting no on the amendment seeking to strip existing protections from our state constitution in August,” Davids, who is the only Native American Democrat in the House, wrote in a Twitter post.
While Davids has come out strongly against the constitutional amendment, Amanda Adkins, her likely Republican challenger in November, supports the amendment, as reported by the Kansas City Star.
In 2020, Adkins ran against Davids but lost by about 10 points. In that race, Adkins was endorsed by the Kansans for Life political action committee. In the midterms this year, Adkins has been endorsed by the Susan B Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group.
On her campaign website, Adkins writes that she is a pro-life advocate. “I am committed to supporting life from conception until natural death,” reads the statement on her website.
Adkins’ team would not comment on the upcoming amendment vote, but sent Spectrum News her statement about the Dobbs decision, which states that she was “pleased that the Supreme Court returned decisions related to abortion back to the states.”
Kris Kobach, who is among a group seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general, said politicians elected by the people should play a role in making the rules regarding these matters.
“Our work here is not done because liberal Kansas Supreme Court judges created out of whole cloth a right to unlimited abortion in the Kansas Constitution,” he said.
Chris Mann, a Democratic candidate for attorney general has argued that abortion is already regulated enough.
“As a police officer and prosecutor, I cannot imagine forcing a rape victim to continue to carry their attacker's baby,” Mann said in a tweet. “Politicians have become too comfortable telling Kansans what to do. They need to stop.”
Nationally, polls are showing that women’s and abortion rights are listed as a top priority for voters this fall, particularly among Democrats who support abortion access, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from earlier this month.
The survey showed that 22% of U.S. adults named abortion or women’s rights as one of the five problems they want the government to work on, more than double a similar poll from December.
Other recent surveys have suggested that a majority of Americans support abortion and were opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe last month, and show that a growing number of Democrats are more motivated to vote in the wake of the ruling, signaling that the fight for abortion rights could shake up the midterms.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, abortion rights groups in Kansas such as the Kansas Abortion Fund have seen an influx in donations, said group president Sandy Brown.
“Yesterday someone from New York gave us $5,000,” Brown said in an interview. “But most of the donations coming up are from $5 to $50, but it really adds up.”
The Kansas Abortion Fund is an organization made up of six volunteers who offer financial support for abortion services to women in Kansas.
Brown is concerned about the upcoming amendment vote but remains determined to continue providing financial assistance.
“We need to take it day by day. I remain optimistic,” said Brown. “However it turns out, we’re going to continue providing, aiding, and abetting abortions, however that looks.”
Primary elections do not normally see huge turnouts in Kansas, with the last primary election in 2020 only having drawn 34% of voters to the polls, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Nick Morrow, Director of communications for Vote.org, a nonprofit voter registration platform, told Spectrum News that they have seen a huge increase in voter registration since the Supreme Court ruling was announced on June 24.
"There were 3,425 registrations in Kansas from the period of June 27 to July 11 in Kansas,” Morrow told Spectrum News. “Comparing Friday, June 17 to Friday, June 24, we saw a 1,038% increase in voter registration.”
In addition, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Angel Caudillo told KWCH12 that they are expecting about 50% voter turnout for the August primary election but are preparing for 65%.
Russell Fox, a political science professor at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, believes that the turnout will be higher in this year’s primary because of the amendment vote.
“This constitutional amendment is receiving a huge amount of publicity,” Fox said in an interview with Spectrum News. “Eyes are on Kansas, and Kansans are aware of that which might force them to be a little more engaged than they normally would for an August election.”
Fox also said there is a risk of a total abortion ban if the amendment passes.
“You will see the Republican leadership in Kansas saying, ‘We're gonna go for a total abortion ban’,” he said.
NOTE: This article has been updated to correct Vote.org's Nick Morrow's title.