Kansans embark on statewide civic experiment to vote on abortion amendment, outcome unknown

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The abortion amendment battle comes to a head this August election day, and if nothing else proves that civic debate is thriving in Kansas.

TV commercials rustle, street signs stick out and shiny flyers fill mailboxes across the state. Online forums are buzzing with people coming and going. People chat in their backyards, at the grocery store, in restaurants.

Should the Kansas constitution protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion? Or should legislators be allowed to impose restrictions on the procedure, up to and including a complete ban? These are both the questions and the stakes. Throughout the past year, I have repeatedly noted how crucial this vote would be in charting the future of our state.

If they didn’t know it before, the Kansans surely know it now.

In its majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito seemed to endorse just that kind of robust public conversation. Or as he concluded:

“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority to themselves. We are now reversing those decisions and returning that authority to the people and their elected representatives. »

This debate also seems likely to result in votes.

Secretary of State Scott Schwab has forecast an additional 200,000 voters for the Aug. 2 election, traditionally a sleepy primary. That would mean around 702,000 votes cast, or 36% of our 1.9 million registered voters. I suspect the intensity of the debate this summer will drive up turnout.

Even then, the final tally will likely miss the 2020 general election turnout by 1.4 million voters, or 70.9% of registered voters.

Voting booths are set up July 29, 2022 at the Shawnee County Elections Office (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Persistent doubts

With all of the above being said, however, I wonder.

I wonder how much Kansans have actually thought about abortion and abortion restrictions over the past few months. When advocates on one side of the campaign spread untruths about the amendment, it’s hard for voters to weigh the pros and cons.

When a statewide vote is scheduled for August, as opposed to the general election, turnout will likely lag behind.

And when the text of an amendment reads like an impenetrable salad of words – I’ve heard college graduates close to me say they had no idea what the measure actually did or what their votes meant – the significance of the result will be in doubt.

As I wrote last week, abortion is a complicated subject. Many people have complicated feelings about this. We deserved a campaign that bluntly states what the amendment intended to do and what we as a state are prepared to do legislatively to restrict abortion. If lawmakers plan new restrictions, what resources will they put in place for expectant mothers? What kind of exemptions or deadlines are they willing to discuss?

We didn’t have those discussions, or so I saw. Supporters and opponents of the legislation often spoke to each other.

Perhaps it was unavoidable when an irresistible force meets a stationary object. The belief in the sanctity of life and the belief in a right to self-determination form the basis of the beliefs of many Kansans. Which takes priority? We’ll see soon enough.

Hundreds of people gather July 30, 2022 at the Statehouse in Topeka to show their support for abortion rights ahead of the August 2 vote on a constitutional amendment.  (Lynn Smith for Kansas Reflector)
Hundreds of people gather July 30, 2022 at the Statehouse in Topeka to show their support for abortion rights ahead of the August 2 vote on a constitutional amendment. (Lynn Smith for Kansas Reflector)

Beyond the campaign

After the vote, we will still be here.

Kansas will still be there, and supporters and opponents of the amendment will still be there.

If Schwab’s predictions prove accurate, less than a quarter of the population will have decided on the potential rights of all women in a state of nearly 3 million people. That’s the system we have and the decision the lawmakers made when establishing the vote. We will then see how to deal with the consequences.

Alito’s view envisions a world in which those opposed to an issue can engage in debate and make collective decisions. He envisions a world in which painful compromises are reached after careful weighing of the pros and cons. He envisions a world in which as many people as possible take on the hard work of democracy.

Whatever the results, they will form a new reality for Kansas and its people. We don’t have a federal abortion right guarantee. We have our state constitution, our state laws, and all the decisions we make in elections and statehouse sessions.

This conversation will not end on election night.

Indeed, for Kansas, it’s barely begun.

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