Woman celebrates the rejection of the Kansas abortion amendment
Faith Martin reacts to the news after MSNBC called the abortion amendment race for "Vote No" during a watch party at Rain Cafe and Lounge in Wichita on Aug. 2, 2022. Photo by Fernando Salazar for The Beacon.

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Kansas voters showed up in record numbers in the triple-digit heat Tuesday to reject a constitutional amendment that would have stripped the state’s constitution of abortion rights, maintaining the state Supreme Court’s decision that abortion is a fundamental constitutional right.

The vote is the first in the country since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established federal constitutional protections for abortion. 

“This victory is a result of our broad coalition of reproductive rights and justice organizations, civil liberties groups, faith leaders and youth who encouraged hundreds of thousands of voters to protect personal autonomy,” said Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes on Twitter.

The vote is a stunning upset in a state with a conservative supermajority that ushered the amendment through the legislature two years ago with little resistance, in direct response to the state Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling. 

Myranda Weidner cries after MSNBC announced that Kansas voters rejected the abortion amendment at a “Vote No” watch party at Rain Cafe and Lounge on Aug. 2, 2022. Photo by Fernando Salazar for The Beacon.

The amendment’s supporters said its passage would return regulatory authority over abortion to lawmakers, despite the many abortion regulations passed by lawmakers that still stand three years after the court’s ruling.

Voters rejected the amendment — introduced by lawmakers in the 2020 legislative session — following a campaign marked by unprecedented spending for a ballot initiative. Organizations on both sides spent more than $11 million combined this year in hopes of influencing voters. Nearly $3.5 million of the funding in support of the amendment came from Catholic churches and affiliated organizations.

The amendment’s failure means that any future abortion restrictions passed by the legislature must meet the court-mandated strict scrutiny standard, which requires that there must be a “compelling government interest” to regulate abortion and the regulation must be “narrowly tailored to that interest.” 

Jay Swain, left,  is comforted as she weeps MSNBC announced that Kansas voters rejected the abortion amendment at a “Vote No” watch party at Rain Cafe and Lounge on Aug. 2, 2022. Photo by Fernando Salazar for The Beacon.

Kansas abortion amendment vote garners unexpected turnout

The failure of the amendment may indicate an unspoken uneasiness among even conservative voters when it comes to removing state-level constitutional protections for abortion in the absence of federal safeguards. 

For every five Republican voters in Kansas, there are about three Democrats, but a growing number of voters aren’t affiliating with either party. More than 560,000 Kansas voters — or nearly 30% of nearly 1.93 million total — aren’t affiliated with a party.

The election inspired record turnout for a primary election, far overshooting government predictions. Early numbers showed that turnout could possibly have exceeded 50%, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab told reporters at an Aug. 2 press briefing.

With Tuesday’s vote, Kansas remains one of 10 states where abortion rights are recognized as constitutional rights by state courts.

Little is expected to change for Kansans after Tuesday’s vote — current regulations won’t automatically fall, and ongoing litigation will continue. 

After Roe was overturned, trigger laws went into immediate effect in neighboring Missouri and Oklahoma, banning nearly all abortions overnight. About half of abortions in Kansas are performed on patients who come from out of state.

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Miranda Moore covers the Kansas Statehouse and state government for The Wichita Beacon. Follow her on Twitter @Miranda_Writes1.