Just hours ahead of the first state vote on abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, multiple voters in Kansas are reporting that they’re receiving text messages attempting to mislead them on how to vote.
On Tuesday, Kansas voters are heading to the polls to determine whether to strip the state constitution of abortion protections. A “no” vote on the constitutional amendment means preserving the constitution, complete with abortion protections, as it currently states. A “yes” vote supports changing the constitution, a move that could open the door for abortion opponents in the state to further restrict the procedure or even ban it entirely.
Yet on Monday afternoon, after days of early voting, numerous people said that they got text messages that suggested the opposite was true.
“Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights,” read the text, according to multiple screenshots posted to social media and seen by VICE News. “Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
“Choice” is historically the political term associated with expanding abortion protections—not minimizing them. By describing a “yes” vote as a vote for “choice,” the text message could mislead people into voting against what they really want.
“It’s a blatant lie,” said Zoe Rey, a voter who lives in Topeka and said she received the text. “It says that it’s for reproductive rights for women and that it will give women a choice, and so it’s saying that [voting ‘yes’], that’s the pro-choice option basically, which is just not at all true.”
For Sam Jack, a librarian in Goddard, Kansas, who tweeted about receiving the text, the message was just part and parcel of the amendment supporters’ longstanding efforts to mislead potential voters.
“Obviously they waited until the last day before the election to send this, because it doesn’t give time for the counter-message of, ‘Hey, look they’re lying to you’ to penetrate,” Jack said. “But they’ve had more tactics to confuse and discourage pro-choice voters all along.”
In analyses dating back to before Roe’s demise, experts estimated that, without Roe, Kansas would become home to the closest abortion provider for an estimated 7.7 million women. It is already difficult for Kansas abortion clinics to meet the demand for appointments; if abortion is banned in the state and its abortion clinics go dark, pregnant people will have to travel even further out of the South and Midwest to get abortions.
It’s not clear who sent out the mass text on Monday. The Value Them Both coalition, which is leading the charge on supporting the amendment, told a local news outlet that they were not involved with it.
“This is not from any member organization of the Value Them Both coalition, nor the coalition itself,” Mackenzie Haddix, deputy communications director of the Value Them Both coalition, told a local Fox outlet. “All Value Them Both coalition communications include identifying information of the source, which this text does not.”
However, in a Twitter thread, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said that the law that governs campaign finances doesn’t deal with whether advertising is misleading. “Text message advocacy about constitutional ballot initiatives does not require paid-for disclaimers,” the group added.
The vote in Kansas, which has pitted neighbor against neighbor, is set to have both immediate and long-term political and practical implications. It’s the first test of abortion rights supporters’ ability to harness the rage and momentum over Roe’s overturn and turn it into political success—something they’ll need to do if they want to preserve abortion access in the numerous states where it will be at stake in the midterms.
Plus, if the Kansas state constitution loses its protections for abortion, abortion foes will be free to pursue more restrictions, including a total ban. Although Kansas has a Democratic governor, Republicans rule the state Legislature with supermajorities in both houses.
“I’m concerned that there will be a total ban, or if we’re lucky a total ban with those narrow exceptions for life of the mother and maybe rape and incest,” Jack said. “But maybe not even that.”