There’s a pitch battle, one of words and wording, being waged across the rolling woods and river-creased plains of Kansas, with both sides accusing the other of spinning lies to fearmonger for votes in a special election being intensely watched nationwide.
The proposed ‘Value Them Both’ constitutional amendment states it would “reserve to the people of Kansas, through their elected state legislators, the right to pass laws to regulate abortion, including, but not limited to, in circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
At least four other abortion-related ballot measures will go before voters nationwide in November, including proposed constitutional amendments protecting access to the procedure in Michigan and Vermont.
Restrictive ballot proposals set for Fall votes include a “no right to abortion” proposal in Kentucky and a “Medical Care Requirements for Born-Alive Infants” measure in Montana. A prospective Colorado proposal restricting abortion has until Aug. 8 to collect needed signatures to qualify.
First Referendum on Abortion
Kansans on their Aug. 2 primary ballots will see a special election that asks voters to approve or deny a proposed constitutional amendment that proclaims there is no right to an abortion in the state.
The proposed amendment on Kansas’ Aug. 2 ballot is the nation’s first public referendum on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 June 24 decision repealed its 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling and kicked abortion regulation back to the states.
With Kansas center stage, and more than $13 million has been spent by “Value Them Both” supporters and opponents, polls project a close vote, and election officials say a surge in voter registrations presages a near-certain record primary tally that could, perhaps, rival the state’s near-71 percent 2020 general election turnout.
The Value Them Both Coalition, which includes Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference, and numerous other churches and grassroots conservative groups, has raised more than $4.69 million, including $1.3 million from Connecticut-based Susan B. Anthony Foundation, according to filings with the Kansas Secretary of State Office’s Election Division (KED).
Abortion rights advocates, spearheaded by Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, have raised $6.54 million since the start of 2022, KED filings show.
Polls indicate that most Kansans oppose no-restriction abortions but didn’t necessarily want to see Roe vs. Wade go away.
An Associated Press VoteCast survey of 2020 Kansas voters found that 54 percent of the 1,445 surveyed said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while 44 percent said it should be mostly or always legal. Nationwide in that survey, 59 percent said abortion should be legal.
Despite 54 percent saying abortion should be illegal, the AP survey found that 62 percent of those same 1,445 2020 Kansas voters wanted Roe v. Wade left as it was, while 35 percent said it should be overturned. Nationally, 69 percent said leave Roe as it was.
More recently, a July 21 Co/efficient poll of 1,500 Kansas voters showed that 47 percent supported “Value Them Both” while 43 were opposed. The remaining 10 percent were undecided.
Key distinctions in that poll include only 5 percent support for a total abortion ban, such as those recently adopted in neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri, and only 7 percent support for a ban with an exception only for the mother’s health.
More than 86 percent of Co/efficient Poll respondents were familiar with the proposed constitutional amendment on the Aug. 2 ballot.
Of course, with “Value Them Both’” and “Value Her Choice” signs spiked into lawns, roadside billboards blaring “Stop the ban: Vote No” or “Vote Yes,” radio and television ads on full spin cycle, it would be hard not to sense the ambient urgency astir in Kansas.
As the last weekend before the Aug. 2 vote unfolds, both campaigns are stepping up radio and television plugs—at least $2 million is being spent on TV ads over the last week, tracking company AdImpact reports—and will dispatch teams of canvassers to hit the streets, often in the same shopping centers and neighborhoods at the same time.
The Value Them Both Coalition maintains that its canvassers have knocked on 100,000 doors. Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri, has joined abortion rights advocates knocking on doors on the Kansas side of the river.
The “Value Them Both” amendment was placed on the ballot by state lawmakers following two-thirds supermajority votes in both chambers in January 2021.
A “yes” vote would amend the Kansas Constitution to essentiality assert that the state Legislature has the sole authority to pass laws regarding abortion.
Pro-Life lawmakers and Right-to-Life organizations have push for reasserting legislative authority since the state’s Supreme Court overturned the 2015 Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act in its 2019 Hodes & Nauser, MDs, PA v. Schmidt ruling.
The 2019 decision determined that the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects a woman’s right to an abortion, making Kansas one of 10 states where court rulings granted the right to abortion.
The Value Them Both Coalition says the measure is necessary to ensure that the Sunflower State doesn’t become “a destination state for the abortion industry.”
According to the coalition, if voters don’t adopt the amendment, “reasonable” regulations on abortion, such as parental consent, waiting periods, and restrictions later in pregnancy, are near certain to be “wiped away” in legal challenges.
Kansans for Life Director of Communications Danielle Underwood told The Epoch Times in May that even with Roe v. Wade repealed, that 2019 ruling still limits what lawmakers can do “in placing restrictions” on the “nearly unlimited ‘right’ to abortion” allowed by the state.
Underwood said that without the amendment, “Kansas is unprotected territory, a haven for taxpayer-funded, late-term abortions. They will both be allowed.”
That’s not true, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom counters, pointing to state laws that include four-hour waiting periods, parental consent for minors, and restriction for abortions after 22 weeks.
“Value Them Both” supporters, meanwhile, claim opponents are purposely hawking hysteria when they allege the amendment, if adopted, would outright ban abortion as unconstitutional. All it does, they reiterate, is give lawmakers the prerogative to “protect reasonable safeguards.”
“Baloney,” scoff abortion rights advocates, who say if the amendment passes in November, it clears the way for a total abortion ban to be adopted in January when lawmakers convene in Topeka—a total abortion ban such as the one proposed in a bill filed last March by Rep. Trevor Jacobs (R-Fort Scott).
“I have no doubt that that is where the Legislature wants to go,” Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told KCUR Radio in Kansas City in mid-July. “Folks who were working on the constitutional amendment made it very clear they want to resurrect a House bill that would be a total ban. No exceptions—not the life of the mother, not rape and incest. You know, a 10-year-old girl who was raped would be forced to deliver or go elsewhere.”
Such claims are over the top, the Value Them Both Coalition maintains in a radio ad that states the “opposition is spending millions lying to you about the ‘Value Them Both’ Amendment. Voting ‘Yes’ will ensure we have common sense abortion limits in Kansas.”
Busy Election Day
County elections officials are braced for a busy Election Day that could see turnout double the typical 25-35 percent midterm primary tally in some areas. Some counties expect turnout to be as high as 60-66 percent.
KED reported on July 28 that, as of the previous day, 44,139 of the 118,670 requested mail-in ballots (44.2 percent) had been returned, and more than 87,350 Kansans had voted in-person during the still underway July 13-Aug. 1 early voting period.
The 163,562 Kansans who have already cast ballots is more than double the 70,512 who voted by mail or in-person early during the 2018 primary.
The 118,670 requests for 2022 primary/special election mail-in ballots is significantly lower than similar requests during the pandemic-skewered 2020 election cycle when 261,180 primary and 459,229 general election ballots were cast by mail.
But the Aug. 2 primary/special election has already set a record for in-person early voting turnout in a Kansas primary. The 87,000-plus who had voted by July 27 easily eclipsed the 51,664 early-voter record established in 2018.
The pace of early voting was accelerating as Election Day neared—more than 50,000 cast ballots between July 25 and July 26. It is unlikely, however, that the early-voter turnout will approach the 371,854 Kansans who cast early votes in the November 2020 general election.
In 2020, more than 636,000, or 34.2 percent of the state’s registered voters, participated in the primaries while 1.375 million—nearly 71 percent—voted in the general election. Most project the Aug. 2 turnout to fall somewhere between those numbers.
According to KED, as of July 27, Democrat-registered voters had returned 23,551 of 52,713 requested mail-in primary/special election ballots. They must be postmarked by Election Day, Aug. 2, to be counted in the tally.
KED reports that 43,649 Democrats had voted in-person during the 20-day early voting period as of July 27 with five days to go before it closes Aug. 1. Thus far, more than 67,000 of the state’s 495,574 registered Democrats have cast ballots in the primary/special election.
Mail-in ballots were requested by 48,851 Republicans with 22,678 returned by July 27, according to KED, which documents that 50,333 registered Republicans have voted early in-person, meaning more than 73,000 of the state’s 851,882 registered GOP voters have already cast ballots.
Of 17,416 mail-in ballots requested by unaffiliated voters, 6,397 had been returned as of July 27, the state’s Secretary of State Office documents, noting that 16,182 unaffiliated voters had cast ballots in-person during early voting.
Less than 22,500 of Kansas’ 560,309 voters who are not affiliated with a party—29 percent of all those registered—had, thus far, participated in the Aug. 2 election.
Abortion rights advocates claim the Republican-led state legislature placed the proposed constitutional amendment on the Aug. 2 primary ballot hoping unaffiliated and third-party registered voters would not realize they could vote in the special election.
Lawmakers said aligning the special election with the primary would ensure it got more attention than it would receive in November when the ballot will include several heated races, including Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s gubernatorial campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Kelly.
Abortion rights advocates say the proposal is purposely confusing by saying a “yes” vote “does not create a right to abortion” when a “yes” vote actually would eliminate an existing right.
Critics claim it is also deceitfully worded. The proposal says a “yes” vote would ensure “the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion.” There is no such requirement in the Kansas Constitution.