In what was the first direct test at the polls of attitudes toward abortion law since the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade in June, Kansas voters on Tuesday strongly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have paved the way for the removal of abortion rights in the state. Democrats pointed to the moment as the strongest evidence yet that the conservative-leaning High Court ruling and other Republican efforts to limit abortion rights would backfire politically on the GOP.
“It’s time to reassess the conventional wisdom on midterms after this vote in Kansas,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) wrote on Twitter. “People are furious to have their rights taken away.”
Voter turnout was high in conservative Kansas — a sharp rise in a midsummer vote and in the eyes of many Democrats, the first major data point that abortion could prove to be a important motivator in the fall.
President Biden pointed to Wednesday’s vote, saying Republicans “have no idea the power of American women. Last night in Congress and in Kansas, they found out.”
Weighed down by Biden’s low approval ratings and rising prize money, Democrats are eyeing the fall campaign with trepidation, eager to tap into more favorable issues that are motivating voters to vote for their candidates. After the Supreme Court ruling, many Democrats began to shift their campaigns more toward abortion, casting their candidacies as bulwarks against GOP efforts to curtail reproductive rights.
But until Tuesday, there was no indication that such a strategy could succeed as concretely as what unfolded in Kansas.
With the constitutional right to abortion established in deer no longer enforceable, abortion rights activists are turning to ballot measures, state races and legislative battles to protect and expand abortion rights on an ad hoc basis. Democrats and abortion rights activists, who are broadly aligned with the party, are sounding increasingly optimistic notes that the two efforts can dovetail.
Democrats are also trying to boost turnout and generate energy for the House and Senate races, where many candidates are also touting efforts they would make at the federal level, including trying to codify the right to abortion into law through a vote in Congress.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Democrats can actually link abortion as an issue to the choice voters make between candidates in the fall. Most Republicans sought to campaign on inflation and the economy, avoiding abortion when possible. They were much quieter on the issue than their Democratic counterparts in the aftermath of Tuesday’s vote in Kansas.
At least four other states will have abortion measures on the November ballot, which party strategists say could boost Democratic turnout in those places, in addition to deciding abortion law in these states. These include initiatives in California and Vermont, where measures would protect access to abortion in those states.
Michigan voters are expected to see a measure that would expand and protect abortion access in the state in the November ballot after activists filed more than 750,000 signatures, more than double the number required. The ballot measure has yet to receive final approval and is pending approval of signatures.
“The extraordinary turnout in Kansas today is an indicator of what will happen in November in the midterm elections and it is crucial that we maintain this momentum,” said Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned. Parenthood, in a statement.
Some Republicans have played down the impact of the Kansas results, especially for Senate races. They noted that there are currently no abortion referendums on the ballot in places that will have targeted Senate races. But several home races in California and Michigan, where abortion will be on the ballot, should already be close.
Anti-abortion activists have vowed to redouble their efforts in the wake of the Kansas results. “The stakes for the pro-life movement in the upcoming midterm elections couldn’t be higher, and there will be many more factors at play,” said Mallory Carroll, spokesperson for SBA Pro-Life America. . “It’s critical that pro-life candidates take offense to exposing the extremism of Democrats’ political goals of nationalized taxpayer-paid abortion on demand.
The group invested $1.7 million in its unsuccessful effort in Kansas and, along with affiliated groups, plans to pay another $78 million in the election this year.
Michigan, a key swing state in recent presidential elections, has a closely watched gubernatorial election this fall, where incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer is hoping to win re-election. Democrats also hope to swing the state Senate from red to blue and win major U.S. House races on the battlefield.
Some activists who oppose the proposed measure on the Michigan ballot say the question voters will face in November would be different from the one Kansans decided on Tuesday.
“It’s very difficult to compare the two ballot measures,” said Christen Pollo, spokesperson for Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children, a coalition of anti-abortion activists opposed to the ballot measure. “What happened in Kansas does not affect our campaign.”
Michigan’s ballot measure would add language that protects access to abortion and other reproductive health services and prevent the 1931 abortion ban from taking effect if it wins in court. But Pollo said the Michigan measure goes much further than the Kansas proposal by preventing lawmakers from creating limitations on abortion, from parental consent laws to banning late-term abortions.
“People are extremely confused and very concerned about the extreme extreme of this abortion amendment,” Pollo said. Although she sees the abortion battles in Michigan and Kansas as very different, Pollo conceded a similarity: “I think that’s going to be a major issue for voters,” she said. “Even for those who wouldn’t say [abortion] is a major problem for them, it takes center stage.
Michigan abortion rights advocates cheered Kansas’ vote and suggested the victory could presage Michigan’s November ballot success.
“This is a HUGE win for Kansans and a big sign that direct democracy is the *best* way for voters to protect our reproductive freedom,” Reproductive Freedom for All, a collective of access to education activists abortion who proposed the Michigan ballot measure, said in a series of tweets late Tuesday. The group celebrated the result in Kansas for “staging for more success of our reproductive measures at the polls in November.
Meanwhile, voters in Kentucky and Montana will consider new abortion restrictions.
The Kentucky ballot measure would clarify that the state constitution does not guarantee the right to abortion and does not require any government funding for abortions. Montana’s measure would create human protections and require doctors to provide life-saving treatment to infants “born alive” after an attempted abortion.
Democrats have signaled they will intensify their focus on the issue in the coming months across the country, even beyond states where abortion measures are on the ballot, and take the fight directly to Republicans.
“This is a deeply unpopular position that will backfire on battleground districts,” said Helen Kalla, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “And we look forward to reminding voters of the Republicans’ toxic agenda every day through November.
John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report