Looking back, West Virginia abortion rights advocate Margaret Chapman Pomponio wishes that she only had more time back in 2018.
She’s convinced that more time could have helped defeat a constitutional amendment ensuring that abortion is not a guaranteed right in the state, a measure that prevailed by four percentage points.
“Frankly, given the fact that it was so close, I am convinced that if we had more time and money to do greater public education and voter outreach, we would have easily won,” Chapman Pomponio said in an an interview earlier this year.
And so it is that the campaign over a similar amendment in Kansas – branded as “Value Them Both” – is already starting to unfold even with the election 11 months away.
Both sides in the abortion debate are already starting to lay the groundwork for the campaign ahead, knowing that there is little time to waste in what will be a monumental struggle over the future of abortion in Kansas.
“Getting a head start and getting an early start is of absolute importance,” said Brittany Jones, director of policy and engagement for Kansas Family Voice.
“It’s a complex issue and we want to make sure we have time to talk to as many Kansans as we can,” she said.
The Kansas amendment would reverse a state Supreme Court ruling that found abortion is a protected right in the state constitution.
It would effectively restore power lawmakers lost to regulate abortion when the court found that the right of personal autonomy, including control over a woman’s body, is protected by the constitution.
Opponents say the amendment would clear the way for lawmakers to ban the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe v. Wade, a looming possibility in the high court’s next term.
Last week, the Kansas Republican Party held a series of meetings across the state that included roundtable discussions on the Kansas abortion amendment with pastors along with voter registration training sessions for grassroots volunteers.
The state party received some help at those events from staffers at the Republican National Committee, which stands ready to help on the issue.
Signs supporting the constitutional amendment are already starting to sprout up along streets in areas of Johnson County, another indication that the campaign is already underway albeit not with the same intensity that will come later.
“This is one of our top priorities,” said Shannon Golden, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.
“There’s going to be a lot of effort in the state from the other side and we want to start sooner rather than later in engaging our activists,” Golden said.
“I think people are energized to get engaged on this now,” she said.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the issue, a Democratic nonprofit group affiliated with former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier is already doing phone banking to start the conversation with Kansas voters on the issue.
Meanwhile, organizers at Planned Parenthood are hosting volunteer trainings, setting up speaking engagements with allied groups across the state and doing daily call time with supporters to get them involved in the campaign.
“Clearly, there is a lot of institutional support for the groups who put this flawed and dangerous constitutional amendment on the ballot next year,” said Rachel Sweet, director or public policy at Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.
“The fight to keep Kansans’ rights intact is a grassroots collaboration between several statewide organizations who are staffing up and organizing supporters to make sure we’re ready for August 2022,” she said.
The issue is getting heightened attention now that the U.S. Supreme Court just let stand a Texas law banning abortions at six weeks and is getting ready to consider a Mississippi case this fall that could potentially overturn Roe.
The court will hear the Mississippi case this fall with a decision due in 2022 that could potentially fall in the middle of the campaign on the abortion amendment.
There has been plenty of social media activity in recent days, especially from Democrats and other organizations that want to see the amendment defeated.
Kansas House Democrats used the Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas abortion case to help fire up opponents of the amendment.
“Are you upset about the Texas abortion ban? We are too,” House Democrats tweeted earlier this week.
“The Kansas GOP and their (legislators) pushed through policy that would essentially ban abortion in Kansas without exception,” they tweeted.
“Because this is a constitutional amendment, YOU – the people – have to vote on it.”
Mainstream Coalition was more blunt.
“They’re coming for us next, Kansas,” the organization said in a tweet.
“Have you seen the yard signs beginning to do the area? How does the Texas abortion ban value women?”
The nonprofit group Prairie Roots – founded by Bollier – started placing calls this week to get a feel about what voters thought about the Supreme Court’s decison in the Texas case and reminding them the issue would be on the ballot in Kansas.
“People on our side are getting amped up,” said Peyton Browning, executive director of Prairie Roots.
“The volunteer base knows how important this amendment is going to be and what that will mean,” Browning said.
“They are extremely amped up to fight against it,” she said.
Michael Poppa, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition, said the yard signs are sounding a call to action.
“It’s making me think we need to get the word out and we need to draw public attention to it as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s never too early to start.”
Poppa said it’s a very difficult environment to focus on the abortion amendment given that there are so many issues on the table whether it’s the pandmic, critical race theory or the upcoming redistricting fight.
“There are so many things going on right now,” he said.
“I am not trying to down play the importance of this, but they are throwing so much at us,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
National Republicans, meanwhile, are taking an interest in the abortion campaign.
Alex Kuehler, southwest communications director for the RNC, said he expects the national party to return to Kansas to help with more training and education sessions like the ones held last week.
“This is a conservative priority. It’s a conservative value Any time we can push along pro-life legislation or pro-life amendments that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
The Texas abortion case introduces a new wrinkle to the campaign on the Kansas abortion amendment.
Abortion clinics are now bracing for the possibility that the Texas law will drive women to other states seeking abortions, including Kansas.
If the fallout of the Texas law increases the abortion numbers in Kansas it potentially could benefit supporters of the amendment who could use it to make their case that the procedure should not be protected by the state constitution.
A similar argument was made this year when Kansas reported an increase in abortions because governors in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas shut down abortion clinics when they halted elective surgical procedures because of the pandemic.
Kansas for Life blamed Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly for not taking similar action and said the abortion amendment would keep Kansas from becoming a “destination” for abortion.
“I’m sure the anti-abortion movement will try to use this as talking points in their campaign – that there are more abortions in Kansas, if that is the case,” Sweet said.
“Kansans for Life and the antiabortion folks treat this as a numbers game, but it’s really about people,” she said.
“What’s important is that this is really a story about human suffering an what people have to go through to get constitutionaly protected legal health care,” she said.
Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansans for Life, said any increase in abortions coming from out-of-state patients will be “further proof of our assertion that this more permissive abortion landscape”is making the state a “magnet” for abortions.
“It doesn’t justify the need for the amendment,” she said, “it proves the need for the amendment.”