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Kansas decides on first amendment to state abortion since Roe was knocked down

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From left to right, Sheila Gregory, Cariann Dureka and Emily Daniel, volunteers for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, knock on doors in Leawood, Kansas, encouraging people to reject a state constitutional amendment that could further extend access to abortion in Kansas to limit.
From left to right, Sheila Gregory, Cariann Dureka and Emily Daniel, volunteers for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, knock on doors in Leawood, Kansas, encouraging people to reject a state constitutional amendment that could further extend access to abortion in Kansas to limit. (Christopher Smith/For the Washington Post)

Remark

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – At a recent meeting of abortion rights offenders at a strip-mall office in this Kansas City suburb, a handwritten sign on the wall summed up the confusion over the state’s impending voting issue in two lines—a “no.” ” vote equals support for abortion rights, “yes” means against abortion rights.

Kansans will go to the polls on Aug. 2 to decide whether the state’s constitution protects the right to abortion — the first such constitutional amendment to be enacted since the Supreme Court’s historic quashing of the law. Roe to Wade, termination of federal protection, on June 24. More than a dozen Republican states have already taken action in other ways to ban or further restrict abortion in the wake of the decision that roe.

The ballot measure, if approved, would effectively overturn a 2019 decision by the state’s Supreme Court that enshrines abortion rights in its constitution. The measure could pave the way for lawmakers to pass an abortion ban at a time when Kansas has become a destination for pregnant patients fleeing strict abortion measures in nearby states.

While the vote is expected to be close, abortion rights advocates say they face an uphill battle to overcome roadblocks they say the Republican legislature deliberately got in their way — including holding the vote on a primary day rather than during the general election, and the intricate wording of the amendment that has confused many voters.

“When they say yes or no on TV, it’s confusing to me,” Rotonda Johnson, 56, says of Wichita. She recently spoke with organizers of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom – a group that opposes the amendment and supports abortion rightsand asked for guidance to sort it out. “I had to ask, which side for yes and which side for no? Anyway, I don’t think the government should stop abortion.”

The energy surrounding the battle in the state is palpable: As Kansas melted under a oppressive heatwave, doors on both sides of the debate have been knocking on doors since time immemorial. early voting began on July 13. “Stop the ban: vote no” and “vote yes!” signs dot lawns and televisions are buzzing with nearly $2 million in ads spent, according to tracking company AdImpact.

“There’s no more at stake,” said Brittany Jones, a spokeswoman for Value Them Both, an anti-abortion coalition with Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference and others who have spent decades working to end abortion in the scarlet state. hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon B. Johnson.

Value Them Both and other anti-abortion proponents — who have knocked on more than 100,000 doors — have taken the public stance that the ballot measure will not automatically lead to an outright ban on abortion, but rather will protect what they call reasonable safeguards that are passed before the state Supreme Court ruling in 2019. Kansas allows abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy with additional restrictions such as a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors.

Stephen McAllister, a law professor at the University of Kansas, a former clerk for Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court who served as the Trump-appointed US attorney for Kansas, said they are unfair, and the real purpose of the amendment is to paving the way for Republicans — led the legislature to pass a full abortion ban at its next session in January.

“Their big lie is that they just want to clean up the decks so we can have a reasonable debate about what regulation is appropriate, and it’s not at all,” McAllister said. “The goal is to clear the decks so they can ban abortion the next session. That’s what it’s about.”

Jones said this claim is “definitely not true”. But the Kansas Reflector, a news website, obtained audio of a meeting in Reno County, Kansas, last month where Republican Sen. Mark Steffen said that if the amendment is passed, the legislature could pass further laws, “with my goal of living from conception.” Steffen, a doctor, declined to comment.

New voting laws that make it a crime to knowingly impersonate an election official have had a “horrifying” impact on voter registration ahead of the election, according to Jacqueline Lightcap, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. The group normally registers more than 6,000 Kansans in a typical election year, but has halted its efforts this year for fear it would violate the new law — even accidentally.

Republicans in the State Legislature posted the abortion measure on the ballot as a special election in addition to the previously scheduled primary, where traditionally only party-affiliated voters are allowed to vote. Many of the The state’s unaffiliated voters — about 30 percent of the electorate — may not be aware that they can vote this time around, said Davis Hammet, the president and founder of Loud Light, a voter advocacy group that announced the move. “clearly anti-democratic”.

“This is not a campaign of persuasion; it’s about informing people that these elections are even happening and are in August,” Hammet said.

Kansas has long been at the center of the abortion debate. The state’s laws were once seen as some of the least restrictive in the country, leading to the 1991 Summer of Mercy anti-abortion protests, when thousands of protesters converged on Wichita and were arrested at sit-ins and blockades of clinics. . In 2009, George Tiller, one of the country’s few third-trimester abortion providers, was murdered in Wichita by an anti-abortion extremist.

In recent years, Kansans have been slightly less supportive of abortion rights than the country as a whole, experts say. For example, an Associated Press VoteCast poll of 2020 Kansas election voters found that 54 percent said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while 44 percent said it should be legal most or all of the time, compared to 59 percent. across the country who felt that abortion should be legal. But the AP poll found that 62 percent of Kansas voters had wanted the Supreme Court to leave Roe v. Wade as it was, while 35 percent said it should be destroyed (nationally, 69 percent said the court should leave) roe like it was).

Gabrielle Lara, 23, has been leading the Kansas City recruiting campaign for Students for Life Action, an anti-abortion group, since she graduated from Benedictine College, a nearby Catholic school, in May. Originally from California, she said she grew up supporting abortion rights in a household where the issue was rarely discussed. But she changed her mind after seeing a friend endure guilt and shame after an abortion three years ago, she said.

Many of those she met in suburban Kansas City have not yet made up their minds, she said.

“There are a lot of swing voters in certain areas, voters who plan to vote the day and want to do more research,” she said. “They have a lot of questions afterwards” Roe v. Wade and that we are the first state with a voting initiative. It’s a really big deal for us here in Kansas.”

Last year, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released statistics showing a 9 percent increase in the total number of abortions from 2019 to 2020, sparking criticism from opponents of abortion, who argued that the state was becoming an abortion “sanctuary” led by Democratic government Laura Kelly. Much of that increase was due to short-term pandemic restrictions at clinics in Oklahoma and Texas, officials said. While this year’s preliminary data shows a 4 percent increase in abortions from 2020 to 2021, most of it came from patients in the state, the agency said.

McAllister, the law professor, was the state’s attorney general in 2017 when he argued in court that abortion was not guaranteed by the state constitution in the case decided in 2019. He said he believed nearly five decades of federal abortion protection was a dead end law and did not expect it roe be overthrown.

“Where we’re going with bans and trying to turn things into crime I think is appalling and unacceptable,” McAllister said. “I am disgusted by the deception and deception that is taking place here in Kansas with the amendment; people act like this is something it isn’t.”

The amendment affirms that there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas and would “reserve the right to the people of Kansas, through their elected state legislatures, to pass laws to regulate abortion, including, but not limited to, in circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or when necessary to save the mother’s life.”

On a hot Sunday afternoon, abortion rights advocates Sheila Gregory, 24, a political adviser, Emily Daniel, 28, a research assistant, and Cariann Dureka, 23, an arts and communications director, took to the quiet streets of Leawood, a majority White, affluent city ​​whose voters gave much to Donald Trump in 2016. The three tracked potential no votes on the mobile recruiting app MiniVAN.

Each woman had grown up in a conservative Christian home and came to terms with a woman’s right to choose during their college days, they said.

As Daniel walked, she said she wished she and others her age had been more aware of years of warnings that the Supreme Court would quash roe. She doubted it roewhich she considered “standing law” would last until the day it was knocked down, she said.

“I’ve learned an important lesson — when people warn, it’s better to pay attention,” she said.

They met a few unfettered voters, a man who was a strong yes and Kirsten Sneid, who had donned a Pro Roe shirt to water her garden. Sneid, 62, a registered nurse and former Republican, greeted the sweaty detectives with hugs and offers of water and popsicles.

“I think my point is that I have no right to tell anyone else what has to do with their body,” Sneid said. “It’s terrible to me that we look at state control and the slander and criminalization of women and the slut shaming and blaming.”

“The whole world is watching us,” Sneid said. “We can do it.”

Magda Jean-Louis, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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