Voters in Kansas have rejected a bid by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to amend the state’s constitution in a way that would have paved the way for lawmakers to ban or restrict abortion.
The referendum was the first concrete test of US public opinion since the Supreme Court in June stripped away federal protection for the procedure.
According to a projection from the Associated Press late on Tuesday night, voters rejected the so-called Value Them Both amendment. Early returns pointed to a crushing defeat for Republican lawmakers who organised the ballot as well as anti-abortion activists that ran the “Yes” campaign.
The result follows a bitterly fought campaign that attracted nationwide attention, coming shortly after the overturning of the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that gave states the right to regulate abortion.
Analysts said the victory by the abortion rights movement in a conservative state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 suggested the public backlash to Supreme Court’s ruling might be stronger than many had expected.
It could also energise the abortion rights movement ahead of several other planned ballots and Democrats in the lead-up to the midterm elections, they added.
“A win in a red state will help the pro-choice movement in terms of raising funding and recruitment volunteers, as they look to upcoming votes in other states,” said Michael Smith, professor of politics at Emporia State University.
He said Kansans might normally be relied on to elect Republicans at the state and national level but do not endorse everything the party proposes owing to a libertarian streak with a distaste for big government.
“That could be taxes or proposals from the Democrats. But this vote suggests it may also apply to regulating one’s own body,” said Smith.
Neal Allen, a political analyst at Wichita State University, said the victory was surprising and significant and suggested Republicans would struggle to win planned referendums to restrict abortion in other states.
“If you can’t win a vote to restrict abortion in Kansas then you can probably only win in a few states,” Allen added.
The proposed Value Them Both amendment would have overturned a 2019 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that found women had the right to make decisions about their bodies, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.
The amendment was promoted by conservative lawmakers and church groups who wanted to amend the state’s constitution to enable the legislature to pass laws to restrict abortion access.
Planned Parenthood, one of the largest funders of the campaign against the referendum, said the result meant Kansas would remain one of the only states in the region that safeguards abortion and a critical access point for women from neighbouring states with bans in place.