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Editorial: Kansas voters showed the nation how to keep abortion rights safe

People cheer during a primary watch party
Voters in Overland Park, Kan., react during a primary watch party Tuesday at the Overland Park Convention Center. Kansas voters protected the right to get an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions on abortion or ban it outright.
(Tammy Ljungblad / Kansas City Star)

In record numbers, Kansas voters went to the polls Tuesday and definitively told conservative state legislators to back off from trying to take away abortion rights. Voters across Democratic and Republican swaths of Kansas resoundingly defeated a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to remove the right to abortion.

If they did it in Kansas, a state with a Republican supermajority in the Legislature, can voters do it elsewhere? They can — and should — vote for constitutional amendments that protect abortion rights and vote down amendments that won’t. And they can vote against candidates who would take away abortion rights. In fact, looking at the turnout and the resounding win in Kansas, the message to legislators who oppose abortion rights is: Your time is up.

If this is what the conservative Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe vs. Wade meant about returning the decision to the states, then Kansans took that to heart and made their decision clear — they want their constitution to provide a right to an abortion.

If you support abortion rights, the polling place is one forum where you absolutely will be heard and one place you will make a difference.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, which put the measure on the ballot, didn’t make it easy. It was confusing: “Yes” meant you didn’t support a right to abortion in the constitution. “No” meant you did support that right. The timing was challenging because the vote was held along with the state primary election. Since almost a third of Kansans are not affiliated with a party and there are few contested Democratic seats, many voters sit out the primaries.

Not this time. Voters turned out en masse and handed a stunning rebuke to the antiabortion legislators. With more than 95% of the vote reported Wednesday, the results were 58.8% to 41.2%. It took a lot of advocates on the ground in Kansas assembling a broad coalition to achieve a victory to protect constitutional rights. Their efforts resonated with liberals, moderates and conservatives. In fact, they couldn’t have gotten the win without reaching people from a variety of political backgrounds, including moderate Republicans and others who may not want to see a constitutional right to choose blocked.

At a time when Congress seems incapable of protecting abortion rights, and the Biden administration can only issue tepid executive orders on ways to protect women traveling across state lines to seek abortions, it’s energizing to see voters take care of business and deliver a no-nonsense statement on their rights. (The two Republican senators from Kansas might want to take a cue from their constituents before they — again — vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify the right to an abortion, when it comes up again for a vote.)

Abortion advocates have filed lawsuits in a dozen states to block abortion bans. It may be an uphill battle, but it’s worth fighting.

Many more states need to follow Kansas’ example. In those dominated by politically opportunistic Republicans currying favor with antiabortion groups, it will be up to the voters to show up and protect a woman’s right to choose. There’s no reason why voters in Kentucky — where a constitutional amendment similar to the one in Kansas is on the November ballot — and in Michigan — where a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights is expected to make the ballot — can’t make their voices heard as loudly and clearly as Kansans just did. And voters in California and Vermont, where abortion rights are secure, can vote in November to enshrine abortion rights into their constitutions. That’s important, too.


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