Just a Half a million people in Kansas on Tuesday radically changed the political debate about abortion. Not only did they vote to reject a referendum to remove abortion protections from the state constitution, but they did so by a double-digit margin, with a surprising increase in turnout, in a state that former President Donald Trump had just carried by 15. points
It either terrified or thrilled political consultants nationwide and filled Wednesday’s airwaves and newspaper columns with analysis. It was the first test of abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, and the outcome was unclear.
But before the landslide win and talk of the national political landscape, it was mostly ordinary people like Janelle Bogart who were doing the real work. Bogart, a pro-choice organizer with a day job in sales, let HuffPost tag along as he canvassed homes in suburban Wichita in 103-degree heat a week before the election.
A woman answered the door with a cat in her arms and a young son on her hip. “Don’t worry, I’m voting!” he said in reference to his vote in favor of abortion rights.
Bogart decided to leave homes with “Vote Yes for Value Them Both” lawn signs. She did her best to be gracious and warm as we drove through the neighborhood as some residents watched from their lawns or watched us from their pickup trucks.
While cheerful and friendly, Bogart’s take-no-shit energy is sugar-coated with some Midwestern charm. This makes him extremely adept at knocking on strangers’ doors – especially those who don’t agree with him.
“Half the house is on one side, and half the house is on the other,” an old man who answered the door told Bogart. He walked out onto his porch with a barking shih tzu on his head. (One of the perks of canvassing, notes Bogart: “You get to meet tons of cute pets.”)
The man politely declined Bogart’s pro-choice pamphlet several times before we walked out. “Education is paramount!” Bogart waved him goodbye, before whispering to me: “He certainly wasn’t taking my literature.”
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a pro-choice collective that recruited canvassers like Bogart, accomplished what many believed was impossible: a victory for abortion rights in a red state after the fall of Roe.
Abortion is already heavily-regulated in Kansas, and Republicans had several advantages going into the ballot initiative. The poll was held during the primary election, which is usually a closed election with low turnout that often skews Republican.
Pro-choice advocates and lawmakers also claim Republicans intentionally made the amendment’s language vague and confusing to confuse voters. Kansans received a misleading text message the night before the election, urging them to vote yes on the amendment because it would “give women choice” and “protect women’s health”, even though voting for the amendment would eliminate abortion. Safeguards. Unsigned texts followed attached to the back at a Republican-founded firm with ties to former U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
Some hardliners conceded defeat. “Words have never been able to express the grief and emotion many Kansans are feeling after the passage of both amendments. This is a huge blow to efforts to protect the sanctity of life in Kansas,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.). said in a statement to the press on Tuesday night.
Others, however, downplayed the impact of the pro-choice victory in Kansas.
Molly Hemingway, Editor-in-Chief of Federalism, said on Fox News Abortion rights advocates spend heavily on anti-choice organizations, but there is no such evidence. However, both sides spent the same amount In advertising. And a National Review reporter made some Ridiculous claim Voters were misled by pro-choice groups because it was “falsely” that voting “yes” on the amendment meant abortion would be eliminated — instead, it meant the state legislature would decide the issue. But both sides understood throughout the campaign what the largely Republican establishment would do if the measure passed.
Both conservative pundits also indicated that anti-abortion initiatives could be more successful with more incremental changes.
Despite an uphill battle, abortion rights won in Kansas. Voters chose to preserve abortion protections in the state by double-digit margins — with historic voter turnout, as high as Kansas saw in the 2008 presidential election.
Some of this can be attributed to the Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe less than two months ago. After the Dobbs decision on June 24, 70 percent of Kansans registered to vote were women. According to the political data and research group TargetSmart.
“Kansans had a unique opportunity to protect their constitutional rights and freedoms when those rights were recently taken away at the federal level,” said Ashley All, communications director for Kansans for Constitutional Freedoms. The Supreme Court’s decision was “a wake-up call” for all Kansans, but especially more moderate voters who thought their rights were protected under Roe, All added.
“Kansans had a unique opportunity to protect their constitutional rights and liberties when those rights had just been taken away at the federal level.”
– Ashley All, Kansans for Constitutional Freedoms
And the state of abortion access has never been worse since Roe fell, underscoring the importance of the outcome of the Kansas ballot vote. About a dozen states in the South and Midwest already restrict or severely restrict abortion. Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri and Arkansas all have complete abortion bans in place. North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa are challenging the severe bans in court or waiting for the bans to take effect. Put all those states together and you have most of the Midwest and much of the South — making Kansas an unexpected sanctuary state for abortion care.
There was also the idea that Kansans weren’t voting for a politician—they were voting for a single issue or belief system.
“Kansas has this unique culture where we care about our neighbors and we really look out for people in our community,” said Nigel Morton, an organizer with URGE: Unity for Reproductive and Gender Equality, one of the groups under Kansan. Constitutional freedom for the collective.
“As far as getting the rap for the deeply conservative state, we have some major conservative players, but they’re just the biggest,” Morton added. “I think most Kansans really favor progressive history.”
Kansas has a large contingent of unaffiliated voters: about 44% of registered Kansans are Republicans, 26% are Democrats and 29% are unaffiliated. Republicans were banking on those unaffiliated voters not showing up for the primary, but pro-choice organizers spent months canvassing and phone banking to make sure every Kansan knew what was at stake.
The number of unaffiliated Kansas voters speaks to the state’s rich legacy of always paving its own way. Once dubbed “Bleeding Kansas,” it was the first independent state in the Civil War. It was one of the first states to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Kansas also has three Democratic female governors, including its current governor, Democrat Laura Kelly, who won her primary on Tuesday.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedoms also took a strategic approach to talking about abortion rights. Its message hinged on individual liberty, freedom and the abolition of constitutional rights. The group worked with organizations spanning the political spectrum and many of them Advertisements He didn’t even use the word abortion.
“It was really successful because we focused on it as a nonpartisan issue,” All said. “We were able to engage people in a non-partisan conversation about this issue and that’s something that really played to our strengths and helped us move forward. People see it as a personal health care issue, they see it as a complex, moral and sometimes religious decision. But it comes down to a personal decision.”
The country will likely see similar campaign strategies in other states in the near future, as several ballot initiatives on abortion rights are coming up. Vermont, Pennsylvania, Montana, Michigan, Kentucky, Colorado and California can vote on the ballot measure in November.
Bogart, a local organizer, spent election night collecting ballot boxes from polling places. When she finished, she brought pizza to the polling station where people had been waiting in line to vote for nearly three hours. The 37-year-old said she became emotional when the high number of pro-choice votes was reported.
“We had a lot of women who put their lives on hold to campaign and march and campaign. With everything that was going against us: They tried to put it on the primary ballot, they were spreading lies about what the amendment meant, they were being so big by all the church groups. Funded,” Bogart said through tears.
“It feels good. It feels unfair to us. Don’t try not to come after us because we will organize and get things done.”