The Lessons of the Kansas Primary Go Far Beyond Abortion Rights


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Source: Truthout

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In 1922, the newspaper editor William Allen White wrote, “When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.” On August 2, voters in Kansas proved him right, going to the polls for the first referendum on abortion since the fall of Roe v. Wade. The result was an emphatic rejection of a state constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislators to severely restrict access to abortion or ban the procedure outright. Pollsters were left scrambling as people across the country expressed surprise: How could this have happened in a state like Kansas?

A few things about the Kansas vote stand out. First, the polls, which reported higher support for the anti-abortion amendment, were simply wrong in predicting that it would pass in the majority-red state. Second, turnout was historically high for a primary, with over 900,000 Kansans voting, rivaling numbers seen only in the state’s general elections. The reason for this is clear: A majority of Kansas voters were energized to act in response to the brazen and authoritarian nature of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Third, the voters that rejected the amendment were politically and geographically diverse, refuting commonly held and wrong-headed assumptions about the priorities of ordinary Kansans. Democrats and Republicans alike came out in support of the right to abortion, as well as a significant number of Independents; they voted not just in big cities like Kansas City and Wichita, but in poorer, rural and traditionally Republican counties, including 14 that went for Donald Trump in 2020. Finally, organizers built a powerful and expansive coalition that was able to reach into nearly every pocket of the state, not limiting the outreach to any one demographic of people and engaging women’s rights activists, doctors, faith leaders, and more.

The vote in Kansas is a desperately welcome rejoinder to the reactionary majority that has been smuggled into the Supreme Court over the past few decades. It is also a vital reminder that beneath the too-often superficial and media-friendly narratives we are fed about our politically divided country, there is a sea of people willing to stand together on abortion and much more. That this happened in middle America is especially resonant, as Kansan writer Sarah Smarsh keenly observed. “In a state where registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats, the results reveal that conservative politicians bent on controlling women and pregnant people with draconian abortion bans are out of step with their electorates, a majority of whom are capable of nuance often concealed by our two-party system,” she said. “This is not news to many red-state moderates and progressives, who live with excruciating awareness of the gulf between their decent communities and the far-right extremists gerrymandering, voter-suppressing and dark-moneying their way into state and local office.”

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