Kansas voters rejected a bid by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to change 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 electoral test of public opinion in the United States since the Supreme Court in June removed federal protection for the procedure.
On Wednesday morning, with 96% of the votes counted, the No campaign was ahead 59% to 41%, indicating a landslide defeat for Republicans and anti-abortion activists who had backed the so-called Value Them Both Amendment.
US President Joe Biden said the vote made it clear that the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health decisions.
“Congress should listen to the will of the American people and restore Roe’s protections as federal law,” he said.
The result follows a hard-fought campaign that captured nationwide attention, shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that gave states the right to regulate abortion.
Analysts said the victory of the abortion rights movement in a conservative state, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, suggests public reaction to the Supreme Court ruling could be stronger than expected.
It could also energize the abortion rights movement ahead of several other ballots scheduled to back Democrats ahead of November’s midterm elections, they added.
“A victory in a red state will help the pro-choice movement in terms of fundraising and recruiting volunteers as it considers upcoming votes in other states,” said Michael Smith, a politics professor at Emporia State University in Kansas.
He said Kansans could normally be relied upon to elect Republicans at the state and national level, but did not endorse anything the party offered due to a libertarian streak and distaste for the big government.
“It could be taxes or proposals from the Democrats. But this vote suggests it can also apply to regulating one’s own body,” Smith said.
Neal Allen, a political analyst at Wichita State University, said the victory was significant and suggested Republicans would struggle to win referendums planned to restrict abortion in other states.
“If you can’t win a vote to restrict abortion in Kansas, then you probably can only win in a few states,” Allen said.
The proposed Value Them Both amendment would have overturned a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that women had the right to make decisions about their bodies, including whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
The amendment was promoted by conservative lawmakers and religious groups who wanted to amend the state constitution to allow the legislature to pass laws restricting access to abortion.
Planned Parenthood, one of the biggest funders of the anti-referendum campaign, said the result meant Kansas would remain one of the only states in the region to protect abortion and a critical entry point. for women from neighboring states with bans in place.