For nearly fifty years, the Roe vs Wade decision has been a safeguard. Not just a safeguard against unconstitutional abortion bans, but also a safeguard against Americans having to think too hard about their beliefs on the right to access an abortion. Their legislators could write restrictions, maybe they’d advocate for or against them; and maybe they’d vote one way or the other on a presidential candidate who threatened to nominate Supreme Court Justices who might overturn the decision. But at the end of the day, they lived with the confidence that abortion would never be totally banned.
Fast forward to 2022. Kansas. Where voters faced a proposed constitutional amendment that would write into their constitution that there is NO RIGHT to an abortion. Leaving aside the question of where else in the constitution is there an enumeration of the rights you do not have, voters had to think about whether they wanted this amendment. And it wasn’t just rhetorical, because waiting in the wings was HB2746, introduced in March, which would ban and criminalize abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest, most pregnancy complications, or severe genetic disorders.
Whenever I’m freaking out about a really important political development, I feel like I need to get on the ground, knock some doors, talk to some voters, to get a firsthand feel of how it’s going. I wasn’t dedicated enough to fly to Kansas and spend a couple of weeks knocking doors, but fortunately there were plenty of opportunities to text voters there, through the numerous and incredibly well-organized grassroots groups like Vote No Kansas and Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, and even the DNC’s Organize Everywhere program. This win fully belongs to these groups for their incredible hard work organizing, reaching out to all voters everywhere, and fighting misinformation.
So I’ve been texting Kansans in my spare time for the last few weeks. Of all political stripes. The first thing all texters noticed was the tremendous voter response rates. Usually for every 100 texts you send out, you’ll get 5-6 replies. Here, it was around 20. From the list of Democrats, it was a strong and enthusiastic “I’m voting no/hell no” with many exclamation points. And they’d talked to every friend and relative about voting no as well.
When we ran out of lists of Democrats, we moved on to Republicans and unaffiliated voters (an increasing number of voters in Kansas are choosing not to register with either party—for almost all of them, this constitutional amendment was the only thing on the ballot). Sure, there were a handful of voters who responded “I hope you find Jesus, you baby-killer” and a handful of the usual inane “TRUMP 2024!!!” responses. But there were also a surprising number of strong no votes (“of course I’m voting no, do I look like a dumb hillbilly?”), as well as lots of people who were reluctant no votes, or even still on the fence.
From some of these conversations, it was pretty clear that lots of people have never stopped to think where they draw the line on abortion. They’ve never really had to, after all, because Roe v Wade drew a line for them. They struggled with their beliefs about when/whether a fetus is a life versus the reality of what a total ban on abortion would mean for women. Some told me stories about people they knew who’d had to have abortions. Some asked for statistics on maternal mortality rates or late-term abortion rates. I sent one undecided woman an international study on the correlation between countries that ban abortions and the abortion rate there. Many voters were concerned about the implications for miscarriages, IVF treatment, ectopic pregnancies.
Ultimately, a large majority (surprising to people who only had some lousy polling numbers to go by, but less surprising to people who’d been talking to voters) of Kansans decided to keep the fundamental right to an abortion in their constitution. Their laws already put a lot of restrictions on access, and they didn’t want to open the door to a full and total ban. Not just Democrats, but Republicans and unaffiliated voters too. Kansans decided that maybe Roe v Wade had it right after all. It’s up to the GOP in Virginia and elsewhere whether they want to keep pushing their extreme views on abortion despite pretty resounding results from Kansas that this is a losing position.