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What Does the Kansas Vote Mean for the Future of Abortion?

On Tuesday, Kansas voters resoundingly voted down a constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to ban or restrict abortion access in the state. While ballots are still being counted as of this writing, about 90 percent of the votes have been tallied and the measure appears to have been defeated by nearly 18 points.

The vote came as a shock in the reliably conservative state, where former President Donald Trump sailed to an easy victory in 2020 by 15 points. The numbers at the box confounded expectations. It was long predicted that metropolitan and suburban areas would largely vote against the amendment, but a pro-life victory could be won in the more reliably conservative rural areas. But even the reddest of counties underperformed for pro-life advocates. The New York Times highlights Hamilton County along the Colorado border, which Trump carried by 81 percent. But only about 55 percent voted for the anti-abortion measure.

In addition to the upset, eyebrows are rising over the high turnout. Kansas officials predicted about 36 percent of the state would vote. Preliminary estimates suggest the number is closer to 50 percent. That would mean it was nearly as high as the last midterm election, a surprise surge nearly unheard of. We don’t yet have a breakdown on the party demographics but Kansas is overwhelmingly Republican and most of the ballots were for Republican primaries.

The result is an overwhelming defeat to the first major post-Roe v. Wade vote for a statewide abortion ban. The amendment was crafted and scheduled for the ballot before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, turning what could have been a quiet and largely symbolic measure into a vote with very real stakes.

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There are a few things to keep in mind as the results come in. The first is that while Kansas is very Republican, it is less socially conservative than its reputation might lead one to believe. College towns dot the plains and while voters can be expected to vote for conservative candidates, they aren’t quite as reliable on conservative measures. The Midwest is built different than the South, and national politics tend to ignore the distinctions.

But it’s also a reminder that a legal victory doesn’t necessarily win hearts and minds. Pro-life advocates won big with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but it’s one thing to convince a judge and another to convince a community. The latter is much more difficult, and if Kansas is any indication, pro-life advocates have their work cut out for them.

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