Roe v Wade: what Kansas’ vote to protect abortion rights means for women’s healthcare in the US
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Roe v Wade: what Kansas’ vote to protect abortion rights means for women’s healthcare in the US

The historic first referendum on reproductive rights could inspire more states to stage their own votes.

On 2 August, in the first referendum of abortion rights since the US Supreme Court allowed states to ban the procedure, Kansas overwhelmingly voted to uphold the state’s constitutional right for women to access abortion.

It is projected that over 60% of voters said they did not wish to amend the state constitution to assert there is no right to abortion in light of the overturn of Roe v Wade in June. The official result will be confirmed in a week.

The state will now remain a safe haven in the midwest of America, as one of the few states in the region where it remains legal to perform the procedure. If the ballot had gone the other way, lawmakers could have moved to further restrict or ban abortion in Kansas, as has been seen in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah.

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Why the Kansas abortion referendum was so important

Kansas – a deeply conservative and usually reliably Republican state – is the first US state to put abortion rights to a vote. The result of the referendum is being seen as a landslide, despite taking place in a state that former President Donald Trump won by 15 points just two years ago.

Kansas officials have said voter turnout across the state was significantly higher than expected on a primary voting day when Republicans usually outnumber Democrats by two to one. Nearly 700,000 people cast ballots in the primary vote, a figure that dwarfed the turnout in the 2020 presidential primary election.

Voters in Kansas, US, celebrate the pro-choice victory in the aboriton rights referendum.
Voters in Kansas, US, celebrate the pro-choice victory in the aboriton rights referendum.

“This is further proof of what poll after poll has told us: Americans support abortion rights,” Christina Reynolds, a top operative for Emily’s List, an organisation that looks to elect women who support abortion rights, told Washington Post. “They believe we should be able to make our own health care decisions, and they will vote accordingly, even in the face of misleading campaigns.”

Now, 10 states across the US, including Kansas, have the right to abortion enshrined in their state constitutions – provisions that can only be overturned through referendums. Other states, like California and Vermont, are holding votes in November seeking to enhance protections to abortion in their state constitutions.

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What could this pro-choice vote mean for other US states?

Welcoming the result, President Joe Biden said in a statement: “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own healthcare decisions.”

Indeed, the Kansas referendum result is expected to incite further resistance against anti-abortion laws.

As legal analyst Areva Martin told CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight show: “Even if voters are not pro-abortion, I think voters are saying that they’re anti-extremism and anti the Republican lawmakers that are seeking to deny women the rights to make decisions about their own reproductive health.”

“This is a big win for women and a big win for pro-choice advocates,” she continued. “I think this is going to be a difficult issue for Republicans going forward as people are galvanised around this issue to support and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

According to the Washington Post, the successful vote could also mean that Democrats will now be even more likely to make reproductive rights a high-profile campaign theme in November, when the mid-term elections are held. However, it’s less clear whether Republicans will soften some of their hard-line positions.

Federal offices that are up for election during the midterms include all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives, and 33 or 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate.

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