Is Kansas a frontrunner for Kentucky’s abortion amendment?


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On Friday, June 24, 2022, people gathered near the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza in downtown Lexington, Kentucky to protest the overturning of the Roe v.  Wade by the US Supreme Court to protest.

On Friday, June 24, 2022, people gathered near the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza in downtown Lexington, Kentucky to protest the overturning of the Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court to protest.

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For those of us who just recalled that Kentucky is one of three states this year to have a constitutional amendment banning abortion, the general assumption here is that it would pass easily. After all, supermajorities in both the Kentucky House and Senate passed legislation to put the 2020 amendment up for a statewide vote, and have since passed a series of draconian measures that would ban abortion outright. Presumably with the support of their voters.

But on August 2, the staunchly Republican state of Kansas turned conventional wisdom on its head when primary voters rejected a similar constitutional amendment by a 60-40 landslide. And that’s given a boost of energy to reproductive rights advocates here in Kentucky.

“We’re talking about our rights and freedoms, so people see it differently,” said Danielle Bell, communications director for Protect Kentucky Access, a coalition of abortion rights groups. “Kentuckians are very concerned about this change and what it means because it is so extreme.”

The depth of the Kansas amendment defeat has stunned many, including in counties and regions that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. The vote was clearly overthrown by the fall of Roe v. Wade influenced by the Supreme Court in late June; the no-choice groups in Kansas focused on individual rights and choices, including some ads that didn’t even mention the word abortion.

Most Americans, without exception, opposed outright bans; In July, the Democratic Governor’s Association released a poll showing that 62 percent of Kentucky residents were unanimously opposed to an abortion ban. Current legislation, some of which is pending trial, only has an exception for mother’s life, not for rape or incest.

The wording of Amendment No. 2 is both vague and confusing: “In order to protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as securing or protecting a right to an abortion or requiring the financing of an abortion.”

But it would also destroy court arguments trying to block current Kentucky abortion laws, which say abortion is a privacy enshrined in the Kentucky Constitution.

So it’s a very big deal, and while you can’t make predictions based on other states, it shows us that even in red states, people tend to have moderation, especially when it comes to taking healthcare away from half the population.

Kansas versus Kentucky

What do the Kansas results really mean in Kentucky? Though both conservative, according to the census, Kansas is more affluent and better educated with fewer people: about 2.9 million residents compared to Kentucky’s 4.5 million.

David Adkins, the current director of the Council of State Governments in Lexington, who served 12 years as a Republican in the Kansas House and Senate, said his home state has a long tradition of political moderation in Republican politics, even as its state Legislatures did it more conservatively.

David Adkins Photo by Pablo Alcala | Employee Lexington Herald-Leader

He pointed to the 1990s, when a group of major church faith leaders and a number of Republican women in Johnson County, which includes suburban churches on the outskirts of Kansas City, became concerned about the rise of religion in politics. They formed a group called the Mainstream Coalition, a bipartisan group that would support moderate candidates, with a focus on supporting public schools.

Kansas has also elected women from both parties for many years, including three women governors, “so there’s a tradition of a strong voice of women in public affairs, that perspective informs the debate,” Adkins said.

“What I’ve learned from going door-to-door as a candidate is that you can’t make assumptions based on geography, religion or age on this issue,” he said. “You meet young women who have been vocal against life and older women who have lived with the consequences of the abortion ban who are pro-choice. Abortion is not an issue that can easily be decided by court decisions or statutory orders – most people don’t want abortions on demand and they don’t want exceptions. Figuring out where to draw the line is a challenge.”

More moderation?

Danielle Bell declined to comment on Protect Kentucky Access’s actual strategy, but it’s safe to assume they’ll follow a path laid out by Gov. Andy Beshear in his unlikely victory in 2019 — a path that’s through cities, suburbs, and universities leads cities where grass roots are upset and even registered Republicans are put off by the idea of ​​government controlling women’s health care choices.

Former lawmaker Addia Wuchner, who directs Kentucky Right for Life and is leading the campaign to vote yes for the change, said in a press release titled “We’re not in Kansas!” the day after the Kansas vote that it is too early for an analysis.

“The wording on the Kansas ballot was longer than our statement, and that may have been a factor,” she said in the statement. “In Kentucky, we remain focused on motivating our overwhelmingly pro-life state to show up and vote ‘Yes for Life’ on Tuesday, November 8th!”

The Secretary of State’s office reported that in May – after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling was leaked – about 8,600 people had registered to vote. That’s a sizeable chunk, although the primary vote makes it impossible to know why or how it compares to last year.

Former Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson said he would vote yes to the change but believes the outcome may be closer than many others believe.

“I know some Republicans who would generally consider themselves anti-life but are considering no because they’re uncomfortable with a total ban,” he said. “They want there to be exceptions for rape and incest. They also want to make sure birth control methods like the pill or IUDs or procedures like IVF are protected. They will still vote for their members in the Republican General Assembly and in Washington. But they can be a no.

“I’m guessing that happened in Kansas. Many of the people I am describing probably voted no in Kansas.”

A fascinating article in the New Yorker pointed out that because so few people pay attention to state legislatures, the manipulation of state legislatures has caused these bodies to become more extreme than many of their constituents. In any case, we will find out for sure after November 8 whether that is the case here.

Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, who carried the recent omnibus bill to curb abortion, said she was “sad” about the vote in Kansas but believed the GOP majority backed the strong anti-abortion views attributable to the resident of Kentucky. “Our constituents value life and value families and women,” Tate told Fancy Farm reporters. “We’ve worked hard to be the pacesetter for life in this nation, so I’m confident that Amendment No. 2 (will pass). That was one of our strongest platforms.”

Kansas politicians probably made guesses about who would run for polls in a primary with many Republican candidates, and they were wrong. Kentucky politicians clearly thought that this change would produce the conservative base in the midterms, and we’ll find out how good that assumption was.

Bell noted that Kentucky has issues with low turnout, particularly in midterm elections, but “this is a very motivating issue. If we can connect with an additional 200,000 to 400,000 people who are not voting in the midterm elections but value their own autonomy, it will make a difference. This is important because changing the constitution is a very last thing.”

For reproductive rights advocates, Kansas has shifted the mood in Kentucky from despair to very cautious optimism. And with a nationwide vote, that can be a big help.

“My bias, based on my own experience, is that one shouldn’t extrapolate too much about Kansas to Kentucky, but I can understand why those on the pro-choice side of the culture wars might see Kansas as a sign of.” want to see hope after the fall of Roe v. Calf.”

Herald Leader reporter Austin Horn contributed to this article.

This story was originally published Aug 11, 2022 12:23 p.m.

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