Kansas voters sent a resounding message on Tuesday about their wishes to protect abortion rights, handily rejecting a measure in the deeply-conservative state that would have allowed the Republican legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure completely. It’s the first major moment since the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer to overturn Roe v. Wade – and is creating optimism among Democrats and pro-choice groups that they’ll be able to turn out women voters for the November midterm elections, especially in states that are considering similar restrictions.
“The impact of Kansas … shows that when we organize, we can win — even in a state that people think of is so deeply-red like Kansas,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of Urge, a reproductive rights and justice non-profit organization. “It also, frankly, puts politicians on notice that abortion is actually quite popular across the country across demographics — and those who want to attack abortion access can do so at their peril.”
There could be trickledown effects in states like Michigan, where there is an ongoing ballot campaign to make abortion rights part of the state’s constitution. It could ultimately be voted on in November and have a big impact on the state’s gubernatorial race and overall voter turnout.
Kentucky also has a vote in November similar to Kansas’ proposed amendment. In California, voters will decide that same month if abortion is an explicit constitutional right. And in Vermont, a ballot measure in November on the states constitution could further determine the right to an abortion.
Experts said the latest decision by Kansas voters proved that the threat of losing access to reproductive rights can be a major motivating factor for voters – and will likely have an influence in the states considering similar legislation in the fall.
CEO of Vote.org, Andrea Hailey, said her organization has seen major spikes in voter registration among Americans every time issues of abortion are top of mind. According to Hailey, the week after the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe, her organization saw one of the largest percentages of voter registration nationwide, up 332 percent through July 7. In Kansas, the site experienced an incredible 1,000 percent increase in individuals registering to vote. Of those people, visiting Vote.org's website to register or verify their registration, 65 percent were women and almost half, 47 percent, were under the age of 35.
She also said Vote.org saw a 500 percent or more increase in voter registrations since the Roe decision in states including Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Tennessee.
Interestingly, some GOP legislators and candidates – who were previously outspoken on abortion – are staying mum on reproductive rights and are instead focusing on issues like the economy and inflation. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who hasn’t ruled out a run for the White House in 2024, rolled back on seeking protection efforts towards anti-abortion legislation. Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, who once considered abortion a high priority, has seemingly shifted his tone on the issue.
In the aftermath of the Kansas vote, some Republicans said the decision was worth taking a pause over. “It’s definitely a wake-up call for us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina acknowledged on Wednesday to the Huffington Post. “Kansas, which is a pretty red state ― it’s hard to find the words. I think people should look at it,” added Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Democrats around the country are likely to take a page from Kentucky’s playbook, and focus on mobilizing women and young voters, focusing in on reproductive rights. The overwhelming voter turnout with this demographic proved that there is energy around the issue, and it galvanized their participation all the way to the polls.
Activists said Kansas has shown that this issue can even appeal to Republican voters, in particular women, if the conversation around it becomes more about rights and personal freedom and less about abortion itself.
The fact that an issue like abortion could prevail in a state as red as Kansas experts said, reflected the deep disconnect between state legislators and their constituents. It’s a divide that may bring out voters that normally wouldn’t participate in every election.
“I think we're going to see overwhelming voter turnout this fall as folks really reclaim their democracy and reclaim their rights,” Inez McGuire said.