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Wednesday December 7th, 2022 12:15PM

Kansas first state to vote on abortion since Roe’s demise

By The Associated Press
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is holding the nation's first test of voter feelings about the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, with people statewide deciding Tuesday whether to allow their conservative Legislature to further restrict or ban abortion.

The referendum on the proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution is being closely watched as a barometer of liberal and moderate voters' anger over the June ruling overturning the nationwide right to abortion. But the outcome might not reflect broader sentiments in the country as a whole, given how conservative Kansas is and how twice as many Republicans as Democrats have voted in its August primaries over the past decade.

Supporters of the measure wouldn't say before the vote whether they intend to pursue a ban if it passes, but they've spent decades pushing for new restrictions on a nearly annual basis and many other states in the Midwest and South have banned abortion in recent weeks. By not stating their position, they were seeking to win over voters who favored some restrictions but not an outright ban.

Abortion rights advocates expect the Legislature to ban abortion if the ballot measure passes, and in a surge of early voting the electorate was more Democratic than usual.

Chandler Alton, a 28-year-old physical therapist from Overland Park, voted Tuesday against the abortion measure.

“Abortion is health care and the government shouldn’t have a say on whether women receive what could be life-saving care,” Alton said, adding that she would in the future vote for candidates who wouldn't "let this kind of thing happen.”

Secretary of State Scott Schwab said that voter turnout across the state was significantly higher than expected by evening and appeared to be “within reach” of hitting 50%. That would be the kind of turnout generally seen in a November midterm election in Kansas, which have averaged 52% over the past 20 years.

Typically, primary elections in Kansas are limited to the two major parties, but unaffiliated voters can cast a vote in this election for the constitutional amendment.

“I'm actually pretty satisfied everything is going as smooth as it is for as busy as it is,” Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Michael Abbott said.

Stephanie Kostreva, a 40-year-old school nurse from Olathe and a Democrat, said she voted yes on the measure because she is a Christian and believes life begins at conception.

“I’m not full scale that there should never be an abortion," she said. "I know there are medical emergencies and when the mother’s life is in danger there is no reason for two people to die.”

An anonymous group that sent a misleading text to Kansas voters telling them to “vote yes” in order to protect choice was suspended late Monday from the Twilio messaging platform, disabling its ability to send new messages, Twilio spokesman Cris Paden said in an email. Twilio, without publicly identifying the sender, said it determined the account violated its acceptable use policy that prohibits the spread of disinformation.

The text went to voters across the state, including former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Davis Hammet, a voting-rights advocate who received a text Monday afternoon, said the message appeared to be targeted at Democrats who hadn't voted yet. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the main “vote no” campaign, called the text an example of “desperate and deceitful tactics.”

The Kansas secretary of state's office said it has received phone calls about the texts from the general public and “acknowledges their concerns. However, state law does not authorize the ... office to regulate campaign ads or messaging.” The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission also posted on Twitter that, under current law, text message advocacy about constitutional ballot initiatives does not require attribution.

The Kansas measure would add language to the state constitution saying that it doesn't grant a right to abortion, which would allow lawmakers to regulate it as they see fit. Kentucky will vote in November on adding similar language to its constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution. A similar question is likely headed to the November ballot in Michigan.

The Kansas measure is a response to a state Supreme Court decision in 2019 declaring that access to abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the state's Bill of Rights.

Both sides together have spent more than $14 million on their campaigns. Abortion providers and abortion rights groups were key donors for the “no” side, while Catholic dioceses heavily funded the “yes” campaign.

Even though some early voters favor banning nearly all abortions, the vote yes campaign pitched its measure as a way to restore lawmakers' power to set “reasonable” abortion limits and preserve existing restrictions.

Kansas doesn't ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy. But a law that would prohibit the most common second-trimester procedure and another that would set special health regulations for abortion providers remain on hold because of legal challenges.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre weighed in on the Kansas vote Monday, saying: “If it passes, tomorrow’s vote in Kansas could lead to another state eliminating the right to choose and eviscerating access to health care."

The Republican-controlled Legislature has had anti-abortion majorities since the early 1990s. Kansas hasn't gone further in restricting abortion because abortion opponents have felt constrained either by past federal court decisions or because the governor was a Democrat, like Gov. Laura Kelly, who was elected in 2018.

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Stafford reported from Overland Park and Olathe.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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For AP’s full coverage of the Supreme Court ruling on abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.

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