kansas referendum abortion
Protest to defend US abortion rights.

The repercussions of the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade are being felt across the US. The Kansas midterm gubernatorial primary ballot includes a referendum on the right to an abortion. For the candidates, it’s a divisive campaign issue – Republican candidate Derek Schmidt wants the power and responsibility returned to the people – while the Democrat incumbent Laura Kelly warns voters of threats to individual freedoms.

Voter turnout will be crucial in the Kansas midterm primary election on 2 August 2022. We give political bettors an insight into the controversial abortion issue and whether the Democrats or Republicans can galvanize independent voters.

Value Them Both – The Referendum

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion…Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” wrote Justice Alito delivering the opinion of the US Supreme Court.
The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion…
Since 1973, the US Constitution was ruled to grant federal protections for abortion rights. And in 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution bestows the same right to an abortion.

However, conservative Kansas Republicans – frustrated by the state court’s decision and emboldened by the Trumpian right – called a public referendum to challenge the state constitutional right to abortion.

Value Them Both – Vote Yes

A “yes” vote on the “Value Them Both” referendum amendment would remove the law protecting abortion from the state constitution. The state Legislature would then have the authority to pass laws regulating abortion.

If the electorate votes for the amendment, Republican John Barker, who chairs the Kansas House committee charged with abortion policy, has predicted a range of bills would be introduced to regulate abortion – including severe limitations, with exceptions only for rape, incest, or medical emergency.
…it will energize people to get out and vote for it.
Conservative Kansas Republicans have refused to rule out legislation proposed by the National Right to Life Committee, which would ban abortion.

Following the Supreme Court decision, Baker believes the referendum will be successful, commenting, “I think it will energize people to get out and vote for it.”

“Kansas Republicans will continue to advocate for the right to life and push back against the Democrats’ radical pro-abortion agenda…Our work is not done,” said Kansas GOP executive director Shannon Pahls.

Value Them Both – Vote No

A “no” vote would maintain the legal precedent established in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt (2019) that there is a right to abortion in the Kansas Bill of Rights.

Abortion rights groups pledged to defeat the amendment, warning of the damaging effects it would have for Kansans. Ashley All, a spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said, “Kansans deserve the right to make private medical decisions about pregnancy and abortion with their doctor, free from government interference,
Kansans deserve the right to make private medical decisions…
…these extreme laws completely eliminate access to abortion and other basic healthcare and will absolutely put the lives of our daughters, family members, friends, and neighbors at risk. It is more important than ever for Kansans to vote no and protect our constitutional rights here at home.”

Value Them Both – Beyond State Lines

Following the US Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, many neighboring states, such as Oklahoma, have effectively banned abortions – meaning that the consequences of the referendum will reach far beyond Kansas’ borders.

Melinda Lavon of the opposition group “Vote No Kansas” said, “More people than actually even live in our state are depending on the care being available.” The four Kansas clinics are now the closest place for an abortion for over 7 million women.

2 August 2022 – Primary Election Day

On 2 August, Kansas will hold the “Value Them Both” referendum alongside the midterm gubernatorial primary elections.

Laura Kelly, the incumbent Governor, is the clear Democratic front-runner. While the Kansas Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, is favored to win the Republican primary.

Both campaigns will be fought on multiple fronts, but the abortion referendum will be a dominant issue.

Derek Schmidt – Conservative Republican

Gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt favored the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, agreeing that the 1973 argument was flawed. He said, “Today’s decision means the power and responsibility to decide the important and difficult questions involving regulation of abortion have been returned to the people instead of federal judges.”

And regarding the referendum, he said, “…I will join with other pro-life Kansans in casting my vote for Value Them Both.”
…regulation of abortion have been returned to the people…
Schmidt commented that a “yes” decision was necessary to control the increasing abortion statistics – up 4.1%, from 7,542 in 2020 to 7,849 in 2021. “I prefer a future with less abortion, not more,” Schmidt said.

If the “Value Them Both” amendment passes, it will have a massive impact on the fall’s gubernatorial race. A newly elected Republican governor and committed pro-life Republican Legislature will determine what sort of hard-line anti-abortion legislation gets passed in Kansas.

Laura Kelly – Incumbent Democrat Governor

The incumbent Laura Kelly has maintained that if reelected, she “will continue to oppose all regressive legislation that interferes with individual freedoms or threatens the strides we’ve made in recent years…” and regarding abortion, she said, “A woman’s reproductive health care decisions should be between her and her physician.”
…oppose all regressive legislation…
Kelly has concerns that if the state constitutional amendment passes, the Republican-led Legislature would likely attempt to impose more stringent restrictions on women’s health care. “If people in the state of Kansas vote no on that amendment, then the status quo will remain. And women’s reproductive rights will remain constitutional here in the state of Kansas,” Kelly said.

Independent Voters

In a typical midterm election year, voter turnout is low. However, political bettors should note that with the abortion issue so divisive, voter numbers could be much higher than in typical years as people want to express their voice.

Faith Martin of the Women’s March No campaign said, “this is activating voters from third parties and independents that would not come to a primary ballot because they don’t have a candidate on the ballot.”

And since the SCOTUS decision, there is no federal backstop. Swing voters could join the election battle to halt the constitutional amendment on abortion and Kansas citizens’ civil right to choose.

Future Safeguards

Laura Kelly is warning voters of threats to individual freedoms beyond the abortion issue. Derek Schmidt is reassuring voters that they shouldn’t worry about other fundamental rights being stripped in the future, that the issue is the constitutional right to abortion and no other right.

Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion on Roe v. Wade was that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions and should not have constitutional protection. Consequently, Democrats fear that many freedoms and rights will be easier to overturn and that any evolved or created right, such as birth control or same-sex marriage, could be up for question.

Moderates view the Kansas primary and referendum as a vote to safeguard local state democracy as the threat to minorities’ rights from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court becomes a reality.

In the governor’s race, incumbent Democrat Governor Laura Kelly leads the Republican challenger, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, by a slim 47% to 44%. The Kansas midterm race is a toss-up, but the result could give those wagering on elections an insight into the sentiment of voters across the US.

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Image credit: Matt Hrkac. CC BY 2.0

Philip Carlson
Writer

Gambler, political observer & commentator.