Andy Speck spent the last month canvassing in support of abortion rights in Kansas. On Tuesday night, Speck anxiously clutched his phone and watched TV as he waited for results from a Kansas ballot measure that would have stripped the state constitution of abortion rights. Even after weeks of knocking on doors, he had no idea if enough Kansans would choose his side.
So when he found out that they had, in a landslide 58-41 percent victory, he was ecstatic.
“The fact that we had to have that debate at all, or we had to have that vote, is disgusting,” Speck said Wednesday morning. “I still really can’t believe that the rights just got blown away the way they did.”
The news that the first state to vote on abortion since the fall of Roe v. Wade had resoundingly rejected efforts to endanger abortion rights sent off shockwaves across the nation. Republicans have celebrated curbing abortion access for years, even as poll after poll showed that Roe remained popular. So the news not only proved that abortion rights supporters could translate rage over Roe into political victory, but also demonstrated that even denizens of Middle America—whom Republicans have long claimed to speak for—may not be interested in ending abortion.
“Woke up this morning and hugged my baby girl a little bit together,” one individual wrote in a Facebook group for Kansans who opposed the constitutional amendment. “Being a girl momma feels a little more special today.”
In another post, one person wrote that they were thinking of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita abortion provider who was assassinated in his church in 2009. “Thank you for the strength and faith you always had in women,” the person wrote on Facebook.
What happened to Tiller, as well as Kansas’ long history of anti-abortion extremism, had haunted the Kansas race, as some feared speaking out about their views on abortion. Speck said that, while canvassing on Saturday, a tire on his pickup truck was slashed.
But the vote in Kansas is far from the final word on abortion in that state, let alone the rest of the country. In the November midterms, Kansas voters could decide to oust the judges of the state Supreme Court, which sparked the ballot measure by ruling in 2019 that the state constitution protects abortion rights.
At least four other states are also expected to have abortion on the ballot in the November midterms, while Democrats must gain or win seats in several others if they want to serve as a bulwark against abortion restrictions. Now that Roe is gone, the battle to protect and expand abortion rights promises to last years.
In the wake of Roe’s overturn, Kansas has become an island of abortion access as much of the South and Midwest moved to greatly restrict, if not ban, the procedure. The state is now believed to be home to the closest abortion provider for an estimated 7.7 million women, according to analyses conducted prior to the overturning of Roe.
“I want everyone to bask in the glow of this victory, recharge your batteries. Celebrate the power we have together,” one person wrote in the Facebook group. “And then when the pro-birthers come around in November, we send ’em packing. Make ’em go 0-2.”
If the constitutional amendment had passed and anti-abortion legislators advanced an abortion ban—as leaked audio suggested they would—the loss of Kansas’ abortion clinics would have been devastating for Southerners and Midwesterners seeking to end their pregnancies. But even with the status quo preserved in Kansas, there are still not enough abortion appointments available for everyone who wants them. In Wichita, the Trust Women abortion clinic is now routinely booked up for the next two weeks.
Ahead of the Kansas vote, Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, communications director for Trust Women, recalled a Roe-era analysis by the Guttmacher Institute that had predicted that, if Roe fell, the demand for abortions in Kansas would surge by around 1,000 percent.
“Did they ask us, “Will we be open in order to do those?’” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “There's that kind of slippery boundary between demand and appointments and also what we will be able to do. We're not going to increase our capacity by 1,000 percent at this clinic.”
“It’s impossible,” he added.
There is also the possibility that Kansas will see a similar attempt at a constitutional amendment in future years. In order to get a proposed amendment on the ballot, two-thirds majorities in each legislative chamber must agree to it—and Republicans currently hold supermajorities in both Kansas chambers.
“We don’t hold any kind of meaningful legislative power to stop anything. It would be about, ‘How do we slow this process down enough to make a better case or a longer-term case for voters?’ and build that kind of power,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “The work is just beginning anew, no matter what. If we win or we lose, it’s the same work going forward—and that’s to expand access, to break stigma, and to build different kinds of power.”