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Kansans vote to keep abortion legal in the state, reject constitutional amendment

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Voters in Kansas have rejected a ballot initiative that would have allowed lawmakers to significantly restrict abortion rights in the state. It's the first time voters have weighed in on the issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Yep. And the proposed amendment was rejected by a wide margin, with nearly 60% voting no. At an election watch party, abortion rights supporters were overjoyed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASHLEY ALL: You know, really, it's like - I'm speechless. Like, that's where we're at right now.

(CHEERING)

KHALID: That was Ashley All, spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, speaking to supporters.

MARTINEZ: For more on what this means, we go to NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, who's in the Sunflower State. Danielle, Kansas abortion laws will still remain in place. Remind us what those laws are right now.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Sure. So right now Kansas allows abortion up to 22 weeks, and there are a number of restrictions on that. For example, there's a 24-hour waiting period that patients have to observe, and they also have to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure. Now, a big thing protecting the rights there are here is a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that said the state Constitution protects the right to abortion. Now, this amendment we're talking about, had it passed, it would have removed that constitutional protection, which would have cleared the way for all sorts of restrictions, including potentially a ban on the procedure. And experts that I spoke with said it was very likely that strict laws on abortion would have passed.

So the fight is over for now, though one Democratic state representative I talked to last night said she's prepared for what she's calling a Republican backlash in November to oust Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.

MARTINEZ: But so far, it sounds like a big victory. Is it?

KURTZLEBEN: For abortion rights supporters, this is a huge victory. I mean, first of all, we had limited polling ahead of this, and it said that this was going to be close, and it really wasn't. Furthermore, Kansas, as you know, is a pretty conservative state. A Democrat hasn't won the state's electoral votes since 1964. So this is a big win for abortion rights. Now, one way to look at this is that it's in part a reflection of what broad polling on abortion shows us - that most Americans want there to be at least some legal abortion.

One more thing to note here is that the turnout was just huge. In 2018, primary turnout in the state was just north of 450,000. At latest count, more than 900,000 people voted on this measure. To be clear, Kansas isn't now a blue or purple state. There are plenty of independents and Republicans who voted no. They thought this was too extreme, and I talked to some of them myself. But look; in county after county, we saw the pro-abortion-rights vote far outperform what Joe Biden did in 2020, but come November, moderate voters may just be thinking about other issues, like inflation and crime, when they vote for Congress or governor. In other words, we shouldn't expect all these people to cross the aisle again.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. But I was thinking, though, other states have ballot measures about abortion this year, so does this maybe tell us anything about how those measures might do?

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Well, I mean, one state to look to is Michigan, which is much purpler (ph). So this must be encouraging to abortion rights supporters there 'cause Kansas, of course, is just much redder. This also just shows that abortion can mobilize voters really heavily. Logically, this would probably encourage Democrats running against strongly anti-abortion-rights Republicans to lean hard into the issue.

MARTINEZ: NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben. Thanks a lot.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.