On Tuesday, voters in Kansas rejected a proposed amendment to their state constitution that would have given state legislators the authority to pass future laws restricting abortion.
The “No State Constitutional Right to Abortion and Legislative Power to Regulate Abortion Amendment” (also called the “Value Them Both” amendment) was on the ballot in Kansas as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. A vote in favor of the amendment would have added language stating that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion and that the legislature has the authority to pass laws regarding abortion. By rejecting the proposal, the current legal precedent established in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt (2019) remains in effect. That ruling states that the Kansas Bill of Rights provides a right to abortion.
Almost 60% of voters opposed the amendment (538,410 votes against and 375,850 in favor), but less than 1-in-3 registered voters in the state turned out to vote this year. Yet despite the low overall turnout, it was still the most votes ever in a Kansas primary.
According to Politico, “The referendum’s result particularly shocked the state because the pro-amendment campaign had some structural advantages heading into Tuesday, and they were ahead in recent polls.” The general assumption was that the pro-life measure would be approved since the state has been solidly Republican for decades (the state has more than 850,000 registered Republicans compared to 495,000 registered Democrats).
Because this was the first opportunity voters had to directly vote on the issue of abortion since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe, it is being trumpted as an unequicoal win for the pro-abortion forces, and a bellweather for how voters will respond when given the choice. That belief will soon be put to the test. Currently, there are four other ballot measures addressing abortion—the most on record for a single year—that will be voted on in 2022. Measures have been certified for the ballot in California, Kentucky, Montana, and Vermont.
This vote may also confirm what many pro-life activists have suspected: that most Americans are both pro-life and pro-choice—that is, they believe abortion is wrong and yet also believe the choice of whether to have an abortion should be left to the woman, especially in the earliest stages of pregnancy. Though according to a recent poll, the majority of Americans are not in favor of abortion without restrictions. Seventy-two percent of those polled support an abortion ban after 15 weeks.
A more pessimistic assessment is that Americans simply aren’t as opposed to abortion as we would hope. Even among demographics that are often considered pro-life stalwarts, significant numbers self-identify as “pro-choice.” A Gallup poll taken earlier this year found that more than 1-in-4 who identify as Republican (28%) or conservative (28%) say they are pro-choice. The same is true for those who attend religious services weekly (26%), and is even higher for those who attend nearly weekly/monthly (52%).
While the Kansas vote and some of these other statistics feel like a setback, pro-life Christians can take comfort in the realization that this is what many within the movement expected. “If we held national referenda, one on abolishing Roe in favor of some policy regime [to be determined in the future] would almost certainly have lost in most states,” says Ramesh Ponnuru. “Pro-lifers by and large understood that the polls in favor of Roe didn’t mean Americans were deeply committed to an abortion regime as expansive as the one Roe actually entailed.”
What this means is that we still have considerable work to do to convince our fellow Americans—and even some of those who claim the name of Christ—of the need to protect the most vulnerable humans among us. In our churches and our communities, we lovingly and boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word and demonstrate the inherent dignity belonging to all of our neighbors, even the youngest and most dependent among us.
“This is how we proceed,” said Jordan Wootten in a recent ERLC article on American’s view of abortion. “By walking in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) and bearing his fruit, we perform this needed work with love, kindness, and gentleness, patiently enduring hardships, and hoping for the day when abortion becomes illegal and unthinkable to all Americans all across this country.”