Kansas abortion vote: Major victory for pro-choice groups

By Nomia Iqbal
Reporting from Kansas

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Abortion supporters react to the result at a watch party in Overland Park, KansasImage source, Getty Images

The conservative US state of Kansas has decided in a referendum to protect abortion rights - in a major victory for pro-choice groups.

Voters overwhelmingly said they did not wish to amend the state constitution to assert there is no right to abortion.

It was the first electoral test of the issue since the US Supreme Court allowed states to ban the procedure.

If the ballot had gone the other way, lawmakers could have moved to further restrict or ban abortion in Kansas.

The ballot question in Kansas had been hotly anticipated since the US Supreme Court two months ago overturned Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalised abortion nationwide.

Projections suggest Kansans voted by more than 60% to uphold the state's constitutional right for women to access abortion.

It's just a projection for now, and the official result will be confirmed in a week.

When Roe v Wade was overturned, President Joe Biden said abortion rights would be an issue for the voters. What's happened in Kansas has turned that theory into evidence.

The referendum result is being seen as a landslide, in a state that Republican former-President Donald Trump won by a convincing margin just two years ago.

For Democrats and pro-choice groups, this is a sign that Americans are deeply unhappy with abortion rights being overturned - and see the Supreme Court's decision as out of step with the public.

The US holds national mid-term elections on 8 November, with Democrats fighting to retain control of Congress.

Media caption,

Watch: Kansas voters celebrate a pro-choice majority in the state's referendum

Mr Biden said the result showed "the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion".

One voter, Taylor Hirth, wept as she celebrated the result with her nine-year-old daughter at a watch party in Overland Park, Kansas.

"I'm a rape survivor, and the thought of my daughter ever becoming pregnant and not being able to do anything about it angers me," she told the BBC.

"I never thought this would happen here, but we have worked so hard here to get the vote out. Republicans underestimated us."

Value Them Both, a Kansas based anti-abortion group said that "Kansans endured an onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations" over the past six months, that "spread lies" about the amendment.

"This outcome is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over," a message on its Twitter page said.

Kansas officials said voter turnout across the state was significantly higher than expected on a primary voting day when Republicans usually outnumber Democrats by two to one.

With feelings running high in the month before the vote, a Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary were defaced with red paint and a pro-choice slogan.

On the eve of the ballot, some Kansans had received misleading texts urging them to "vote yes" to protect choice, but the opposite was true - a "yes" vote was to take away access to abortion. Tech company Twilio said it had suspended the anonymous sender from its platform.

Although Kansas is staunchly conservative, its abortion regulations are less strict than many other Republican-led states.

It allows pregnancies to be terminated up to 22 weeks with other restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for children.

The legislature of the Great Plains state is controlled by anti-abortion Republicans, but its politically vulnerable governor, Laura Kelly, is a Democrat. She had warned that changing the state constitution would throw Kansas "back into the dark ages".

More than a dozen Republican-led states have moved to ban or further restrict abortion since the Supreme Court decision on 24 June.

But 10 states across the US, including Kansas, have the right to abortion enshrined in their state constitutions, provisions that can only be overturned through referendums.

Other states, like California and Vermont, are holding votes in November seeking to enhance protections to abortion in their state constitutions.

Additional reporting by Eva Artesona, Max Matza, Robin Levinson-King and Tiffany Wertheimer