Kansas’ Aug. 2 special election is a first test of abortion rights. We need to get this right

Kansas’ Aug. 2 special election is a first test of abortion rights. We need to get this right

July 3, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

This is not a primary

Let me make this clear: The ballot amendment is not a primary. It is not a primary. Finally, it is not a primary. Kansas Republicans placed the vote for the special amendment on the same day as the Kansas primary, Aug. 2, 2022, but the amendment vote does not require participation in the primary process.

Party primaries in Kansas are closed. You must be a Republican or Democratic voter to cast a ballot for a Republican or Democratic candidate. As a result, turnout in primaries tend to be low, as unaffiliated voters do not have the ability to cast a vote in a primary. 

When it comes to a special election, any Kansas registered voter can vote. So, on Aug. 2, Kansas unaffiliated voters can participate in the special election, and making this clear to them will make a major difference in our ability to get participation from voters we need in this state to make sure the Amendment 2 vote does not succeed.

When the national media portrays this as a primary, they help undercut the fact that unaffiliated voters can participate, and it continues to complicate the ability to get information out to the very voters the Vote No cause need to turn up. 

What is the Amendment 2 proposal?

To make it clear, Amendment 2 has one key goal: It establishes within the Kansas constitution that women have no right to an abortion. Rather than establishing a right, it specifically removes it. Here is the ballot text:

The Value Them Both Amendment would affirm there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion, and would reserve to the people of Kansas, through their elected state legislators, the right to pass laws to regulate abortion, including, but not limited to, in circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

This amendment gives the legislature full authority to regulate abortion access, including in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. In other words, there is nothing in the state constitution to protect a woman that can go to the court for her protection, even if she has been raped, molested, or her life is at risk. 

With the Supreme Court ruling made, what happens next?

Kansas has open abortion clinics in the Kansas City Metro, Wichita. Still, Kansas is home to one of the most horrific instances of violence against an abortion provider: the assassination of Dr. Tiller in his church.

Should the amendment pass, it is nearly guaranteed that the Kansas legislature will immediately move to pass legislation built on stopping all abortion in the state of Kansas. Should Amendment 2 pass, Gov. Laura Kelly, who is up for election this November, will be the absolute last obstacle in the way of legislation that ends all abortion in the state, which remains with the justices to uphold the prior 6-1 state Supreme Court ruling providing for all bodily autonomy.

We can turn out voters

The question for Kansas “No” voters on Aug. 2 is a commitment to turn out. Can Kansas turn out enough “no” votes to prevent this anti-abortion amendment from taking place?

Absolutely. Despite claims that Kansas is so uniformly red that this measure is a sure thing, Kansas has elected Democratic governors on a nearly rotating schedule with Republicans over the last several decades. Kansas is the only state to elect three Democratic women as governor, and Kansas elected both the first LGBT Native American woman to Congress and the first Native American to Congress, beaten only by a few hours by Deb Haaland thanks to time zone placement.

Kansas is simply not so bright red that this is an impossibility, but the fact that it is not impossible does not mean it will be easy. To help with that matter, Democratic senators like Tina Smith of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have offered support. 

“Kansas is an island of access in a part of the country with already very severe restrictions, so this fight has especially high stakes,” Warren said in an email that went out Friday shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.

“An organization called Kansans for Constitutional Freedom is fighting to defeat this ballot measure and to preserve reproductive freedom for women in Kansas and neighboring states,” the email said.

Kansas voters have until July 12 to register to vote. The special election is Aug. 2. There is a primary also that day. If you are registered for a party, you may vote in that party primary. If you are unaffiliated, you will vote only on the special election question regarding the constitutional amendment. 

With less than two weeks to register, time matters to save bodily autonomy in Kansas.