In the first abortion-related election since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Kansas voters have rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have specified that the right to terminate a pregnancy isn’t protected. Though votes are still being counted, Decision Desk HQ determined that the amendment has failed, preserving access to abortion in a state that has emerged as a regional destination for the procedure.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of federal abortion protections has put new focus on state courts and constitutions. In Kansas, the state Supreme Court held in 2019 that their constitution guarantees the right to an abortion — a ruling that has barred state legislators from passing laws that might ban or heavily restrict access to the procedure. Right now, abortion in Kansas is legal up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.
The vote could offer a preview into whether and how the Roe decision could shape state elections this fall, tilting the balance in favor of voters who support abortion rights.
The Kansas amendment was voted on during a summer primary with no competitive Democratic contest and in a midterm year that is otherwise likely to favor Republicans, who typically oppose abortion rights. That scheduling had initially raised eyebrows in Kansas.
“It’s very obvious the side that wants to overturn the court decision — which would be a ‘yes’ — deliberately put this on the August vote thinking it would turn in their favor,” Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University, told The 19th prior to the election.
Instead, it appears that the national Roe decision has energized abortion rights supporters, including those in Kansas. National Democrats are counting on that energy in this November’s midterm elections, particularly in Senate races in states such as Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. It could also hold sway in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly — a Democrat who has vetoed abortion restrictions — is in a tight race for reelection.
A similar constitutional amendment is on the ballot this November in Kentucky, which is currently enforcing a total abortion ban. Montana residents will vote on whether to grant legal rights for infants “born alive after an abortion” — something that almost never actually happens and is already addressed by existing federal law. Voters in California and Vermont will weigh in on whether to codify abortion protections in their state constitutions.
In Kansas, the amendment’s failure will preserve abortion access for not only residents, but the entire region.
Kansas, which is home to five abortion clinics, has become a major access point for the procedure. For years, about half of all abortions in Kansas were for people from out of state, largely from Missouri. Post-Roe, that figure has grown as states surrounding Kansas outlaw abortion.
Oklahoma and Texas, both to the south of the state, have banned the procedure almost entirely. So has Missouri, to the east, as well as nearby Arkansas and Mississippi. As a result, clinics in Kansas say they do not have enough doctors, staff, space or appointment availability to care for all the patients calling from out of state. Wait times are two or three weeks for appointments, and clinicians are increasingly referring patients to abortion facilities in Colorado, New Mexico and Illinois.
In 2021, Kansas clinicians performed about 8,000 abortions. Before Texas banned most abortions last September, providers there were doing close to 55,000 per year — well beyond what Kansas clinics are able to perform.
Planned Parenthood used to be able to regularly care for patients who needed quick abortions because of newly discovered medical complications, said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates three abortion clinics in Kansas. Now, they are recommending those patients — who are often later in pregnancy — travel out of state for an abortion.
Abortion providers have started working to open new clinics in states like Illinois and New Mexico. But the looming threat of a ban had so far deterred many from doing the same in Kansas. It’s not immediately clear if the amendment’s defeat will change that. But for now, there aren’t nearly enough slots for all of the patients who want to come to Kansas.
“The pressure is there to do much more with the same amount of appointments,” said Zach Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita. “We could schedule ridiculous amounts out, like nine months. What does it even mean? We could fill a calendar with appointments at this point.”
This story was originally published Aug. 2, 2022, by The 19th.