Supreme Court decision fires up Kansas abortion amendment campaign

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Will Kansas abortion rights supporters do what the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t?

In what is already one of the most expensive primary contests in Kansas history, the campaign over a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion is only expected to intensify after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday.

Opponents of the amendment believe the court’s decision will serve as a rallying point against the amendment, which would reverse a state Supreme Court ruling that found abortion is a protected right in the state constitution.

Melissa Stiehler

“I’m devastated. People around me are devastated,” said Melissa Stiehler, director of advocacy for the civic engagement group Loud Light.

“More than energizing, people are putting their despair into action,” Stiehler said. “Certainly, it’s motivating.”

The campaign over the amendment is now at about $7.1 million, which is more than what’s being spent on any race for statewide office except governor.

The amount of money spent so far is comparable to what was spent on a similar amendment in Tennessee that prevailed in 2014 with 53% of the vote.

This is the fourth time the country will see voters decide an amendment like this since 2014 with voters in Louisiana passing one with 62% of the vote in 2020.

It is, however, the first vote that will take place following Friday’s decision on Roe and will be followed by a similar vote in Kentucky this fall.

While excited about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, supporters of the amendment say there’s work to be done and that their energy is strong.

Brittany Jones

“The intensity and the enthusiasm are extreme,” said Brittany Jones, director of policy and engagement for Kansas Family Voice, which supports the amendment.

“They want to get involved. They want to make sure Kansas isn’t a destination for abortion, and they’re really concerned,” Jones said.

While the amendment does not ban abortion, opponents fear that it clears a path for lawmakers to ban abortion outright as many neighboring states like Missouri and Oklahoma have done with the constitutional demise of Roe.

“This decision is a wake-up call for a lot of Kansans,” said Ashley All, spokeswoman for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a coalition opposing the amendment.

“They were motivated before, and I believe they will be motivated more to protect their constitutional rights here in Kansas because there is no protection at the federal level.”

The timing of the court’s decision had been anticipated for months and was heightened in May when a draft of the court’s opinion was leaked.

It had always been known that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban within about a month of the vote on the Kansas abortion amendment.

At least one national expert who follows abortion politics believed that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Mississippi case could influence the vote on the amendment.

“If you say there is no option, I don’t know,” said Glen Halva-Neubauer, who studies abortion politics at Furman University.

“I think that swings the pendulum, it gets at individual liberty, it brings out the libertarian kind of impulse in the American psyche and the American voter,” Halva-Neubauer said in an interview last year.

“I think that could not necessarily redound to the benefit of the pro-life movement.”

Opponents of the amendment channeled their response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision by urging Kansans to vote against the measure on Aug. 2.

“This is no longer hyperbole or hypothetical,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids said in a statement on Friday morning.

Sharice Davids

“For 50 years, we’ve been protected from the most extreme attempts to control people’s decisions about their bodies, but that protection is now gone and Kansas is at a major decision point,” Davids said.

Davids immediately took matters into her own hands, announcing late Friday she planned to kickoff an event Saturday morning to meet voters across Johnson County to discuss the amendment.

The energy, however, is not limited to one side of the campaign.

Supporters of the amendment have already spent about $2.7 million on broadcast advertising, and that doesn’t count the $1.3 million that Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America is putting into Kansas for the campaign.

Susan B. Anthony is deploying about 400 paid student canvassers who are knocking on doors in Kansas City, Wichita and other cities throughout the state.

There have already been reports that Susan B. Anthony canvassers have been at doors in recent weeks, including one social media post that indicated they had already been at 100,000 doors. They ultimately want to hit 250,000 doors.

Early on, supporters of the amendment raised more money than the opponents, which is generally unusual for a campaign like this run in other states.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann said in a recent interview that he sensed more fervor about stopping abortion now than at any time since he’s been in Kansas since 2004.

“We’ve done a lot of significant things in terms of pro life, but I’ve never experienced anything quite this broad, and part of it is because it’s so important because of what the state Supreme Court did here,” he said.

Opponents of abortion rights seized on the possibility that women in other states will migrate to Kansas for abortion now that other states are banning the procedure.

The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, predicts that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion in the aftermath of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Already, eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas – have already started enforcing their trigger bans, according to Guttmacher.

Five days after the Supreme Court decision is certified, Wyoming’s trigger ban will go into effect, and bans in Tennessee and Idaho will start in 30 days.

The closest abortion provider for 7.7 million women from 15 to 49 would be in Kansas, where there were 7,849 abortions last year, Guttmacher reported.

Dinah Sykes

“Unfortunately, this welcomed ruling won’t protect life in Kansas,” Republican Congressman Jake LaTurner said of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“It’s now more important than ever that Kansans reaffirm our commitment to protecting the unborn and vote to pass the Value Them Both Amendment to guarantee our state does not become a hub for unlimited abortions,”  LaTurner said in a statement.

But opponents of the amendment – as disappointed as they were with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Friday – are readying for a tough campaign.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes promised to personally knock doors in campaigning against the amendment,

“I will not let my colleagues in the legislature take that freedom away from my fellow Kansans – not without a fight,” Sykes said in a statement.

“Kansas voters can expect to see me at their doorsteps this summer to shine a light on what politicians in Topeka plan to do with their rights and to confront the lies these extremists are peddling to manipulate their way into unbridled power over women in our state,” Sykes said.

Neal Allen

But as much energy as opponents of the amendment might generate, they still face an uphill climb, said Wichita State political scientist Neal Allen.

“The amendment matters so much more today than it did yesterday,” Allen said.

“There may be a small benefit to the opponents of the amendment because people tend to vote on fear and not on hope,” he said.

Then again, Kansas is a conservative-leaning state and turnout in primaries tends to skew conservative, and this one may be more conservative because of a lack of Democratic races on the primary ballot, he said.

“I don’t think this is the kind of vote that’s going to suffer from complacency on any side.”