Supreme Court leak: Will it power campaign against abortion amendment?


For months, the Mississippi abortion case has cast a shadow over Kansas.

It’s always been known that the historic Mississippi case that could overturn Roe v. Wade would bump up against the Kansas campaign for a constitutional amendment ensuring abortion is not a protected state right.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been on track since last year to decide the Mississippi case this summer, about a month before Kansas voters are to decide whether abortion should be protected under the Kansas Constitution.

There had been academic speculation for months about how the federal case might influence the state campaign on abortion with the two coming about a month apart.

But on Monday night, it all became much more real with the explosive leak of a draft ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court indicating that it’s ready to strike down Roe and leave the Kansas Constitution as the last protection for abortion rights.

If the constitutional amendment succeeds at the polls, opponents say it opens the door for the Legislature to ban abortion in Kansas, although supporters say it’s about preserving regulations that protect lives.

Debate raged Tuesday about whether the leak of the draft opinion would empower abortion rights supporters in their drive to defeat the amendment in a primary election where abortion grassroots activists are believed to have an edge.

Polling done at Fort Hays State last year indicated that a little more than 60% of Kansans surveyed believed that abortion should not be banned in all cases including rape and incest.

Already, the coalition formed to defeat the amendment – Kansans for Constitutional Freedom – reported a “significant increase in engagement and donations” since the story about the draft opinion broke Monday night.

Lauren Martin

“I spent my evening rage donating to organizations that support one’s right to have an abortion,” said Lauren Martin, 3rd District chair for the state Democratic Party.

“Everyone I was talking to via text last night has now signed up for volunteer shifts to go turn out voters in August,” Martin said.

“You’ve basically just angered a bunch of people,” she said. “Anger can be a very powerful motivator.”

Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park said immediately after the news broke, she was registering her oldest child to vote.

“Register your kids to vote,” Clayton posted on Twitter. “Now is the time to teach our children the power that they have, which is at the ballot box.”

The coalition formed to support the amendment – Value Them Both – issued a statement Tuesday but didn’t directly address the political fallout the leak of the draft opinion might have on the campaign.

The coalition called Kansas abortion laws “among the most extreme in the nation.”

“If Kansans want to stop this, they must vote ‘yes’ on Value Them Both,” said Mackenzie Haddix, spokeswoman for the Value Them Both Coalition.

However, in an interview last summer, a spokeswoman for Kansans for Life said the Mississippi case could play into the campaign for the amendment.

“The more the federal case comes into focus for the public, the greater that spotlight is going to be on the abortion industry’s extreme position,” KFL spokeswoman Danielle Underwood said at the time.

“This whole thing is going to be a big educational process for the people of Kansas,” Underwood said.

“They are already learning that regardless of what happens in this case, that unlimited abortion practices are here now and going forward unless the people approve the Value Them Both amendment,” she said.

Glen Halva-Neubauer, who studies abortion politics at Furman University, already thought the Mississippi case could affect the campaign on the constitutional amendment.

Glen Halva-Neubauer

The leak of the draft opinion only makes the stakes more real, he said.

“This will mobilize amendment opponents in Kansas and perhaps gin them up at a critical time – nearly a month before we thought the case would be announced or even longer.

“So, it gives more time for organizing and emphasizing the threat,” Halva-Neubauer said.

The threat to abortion, he said, is no longer hypothetical to abortion supporters.

“From the perspective of opponents, the shoe has dropped, the inevitable has finally occurred, the apocalypse is now,” Halva-Neubauer said.

Other academics had different takes.

Joshua C. Wilson

Joshua C. Wilson, who studies abortion politics at the University of Denver, said the leak could benefit both sides of the issue.

Wilson said it gives a talking point for Democrats and abortion supporters to rally around.

But conservatives and opponents of abortion will still have a goal to reach in Kansas even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe nationally.

“Kansas is interesting in that you have the Supreme Court opinion that still needs to be overcome for conservatives in Kansas to get what they want,” Wilson said.

“That provides a really potent mobilizing point for Republicans and conservatives,” he said.

Republican Party Chairman Mike Kuckelman said the constitutional amendment in Kansas will now be in the national spotlight.

“I believe it motivates both sides to turn out because abortion becomes a state issue rather than federal,” Kuckelman said in a text Monday night shortly after the leak was published.

Democratic state Sen. Ethan Corson of Fairway, former executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the leak of the draft opinion and the attention it has received could drive more Democrats to the polls who might not think about voting.

Ethan Corson

“If you’re a Democratic voter or an unaffiliated voter, you’re typically not thinking about voting because there are not always Democratic primaries. Unaffiliated voters do not vote in primaries,” Corson said.

“There is a challenge for opponents of this amendment in getting the word out and getting folks to show up and vote. I think this help them do that,” he said.

The draft Supreme Court opinion, he said, makes clear the amendment’s goal of giving the Legislature the power to ban abortion if Roe is overturned in the Mississippi case.

“It is now more clear than ever that the goal of this amendment is a complete and total ban on all abortion in Kansas in all circumstances,” he said.

“This will clarify for voters that those are, in fact, the stakes as we head into August.”

Kuckelman said the amendment does not ban or limit abortions.

“Value Them Both instead puts the power to decide abortion issues in the hands of Kansas citizens,” he said.

“It restores the voice of every citizen pro or against abortion and permits the Kansas Legislature to act according to the will of citizens of Kansas.”

Democratic state Rep. Brandon Woodard of Lenexa said he had received a number of unsolicited campaign donations since the story broke Monday night.

“I would say people are feeling very fired up to get out and do the work,” Woodard said.

Kellie Warren

Republicans, meanwhile, are confident that Kansas voters will ratify the amendment regardless of how energized the opposition might be.

“The radical left wants no common sense limits on the abortion industry — including health and safety standards on clinics that perform abortions,” Republican state Sen. Kellie Warren said in a statement.

“The Democrat agenda is out of step with where Kansans are. I have full confidence that the people of Kansas will reject the politics of extreme and radical abortion on demand without limits or any regulation.”