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Roe, Roe, Roe the Vote
What did we learn from the Kansas referendum? That Republicans have abortions too. But you knew that.
Last night was a big one for abortion rights, friends, as Kansas voters gave the right-wing a good thumping on an initiative that would have turned the right to chose over to politicians. If your friends are buzzing about last night’s primaries, please
I want to say that I never believed that the Kansas abortion referendum, smarmily named the “Value Them Both” act, would succeed, and I was right. Almost 60% of Kansas voters rejected it soundly yesterday.
Designed to overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion was already in the state constitution, the referendum asked voters to amend that document by voting Yes. A successful referendum would have then permitted the Republican legislature to quickly eviscerate the right to choose in that state, as in many others. Currently, abortion is no picnic to access in Kansas. The procedure is legal for up to 20 weeks. But there is a 24-hour waiting period, abortion seekers must undergo state-directed counseling, which can mean being scolded by someone who doesn’t want you to have an abortion, and minors must receive parental consent to access the procedure.
But why was I confident that Kansans would vote to preserve the status quo? Three things.
The first is that, statistically, opponents of abortion are a clear minority. Sixty-one percent of Americans and 39% of Republicans believe that abortion should be available in all or most cases. In addition, nearly 80% of Americans believe that abortion should be available in the first trimester and cases of rape or incest. Given these numbers, it seemed unlikely that even a state as Republican as Kansas would not, if well-informed, vote to preserve the right to choose.
And nothing has happened since the Dobbs ruling to reassure Americans that hard-right Republicans are anything but a nasty bunch of Commanders and Aunt Lydias. They think human suffering is good for the national soul. These people do, in fact, imagine a world in which children carry their rapists’ babies to term and critical medical care for an otherwise healthy person is withheld as a non-viable fetus slowly expires in a uterus.
But—and this is the second thing I expected—while referenda like this are often snuck into late summer primaries timed to whittle the vote down to the party faithful, the Dobbs decision changed that equation. The referendum and some excellent, on-the-ground organizing got Kansans to the polls in large numbers. As of midnight yesterday, more than 781,500 voters had cast a ballot on the referendum. This number is slightly more than the number of people who voted for the Trump/Pence ticket in 2020. But it is far more than the number of Kansans who voted in he 2018 primary: 457, 598.
And here’s where things get interesting: who are these extra voters? Everyone thinks of Kansas as a red state, which it technically is. But if you look at voter registration, things look slightly different: 46% of Kansans are registered Republicans, 31% are registered Democrats—and a whopping 23% are independent. And although Kansas independents were not allowed to vote on primary candidates in either party yesterday, they were allowed to vote on the referendum.
And by golly, it looks like they did.
Now for the third thing: I think the GOP was not only unprepared for the Dobbs decision, they were doubly unprepared for the gruesome scenarios that any pro-choice advocate could have foretold. Frankly, we are not more than six weeks away from the Dobbs decision, and the post-Roe world already looks very, very ugly. CVS and Walgreens are permitting pharmacists to deny birth control prescriptions and clerks to refuse to sell condoms. Pregnant people can now be denied care for cancer if that care would harm or kill a fetus or require termination of the pregnancy. A ten-year-old rape victim was forced to travel from Ohio to Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. The physician who performed that legal abortion is now being investigated by the Indiana Attorney General. A Texas woman whose water broke at 18 weeks could not access standard medical care, not because the fetus had a chance to live, but because frightened medical personnel refused to treat her until its heart stopped.
And these are only the cases that make the news. So why wouldn’t Kansas voters, if given the chance, vote to leave this decision in the hands of the people—not an increasingly militant political party that clearly cannot handle the responsibility?
The victory for reproductive rights in Kansas leaves me with two final thoughts. The first: our doom-and-gloom liberal media seems to believe that the Democrats are dead meat in November, but this decisive rebuke to a Republican policy goal in a bright red state suggests that Dobbs will, indeed, be a wind blowing at Democratic backs.
And my second thought is: what is stopping the democrats from putting abortion on the ballot in other red states as well? As Samuel Alito said in his decision, the people have recourse. We can vote.
Does the Republican party have the courage to let us do that? Let’s try.
In other news, Congressman Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Donald Trump, was retired by his constituents last night—partly due to a Democratic strategy where they invest in extreme candidates who may be easier to beat in November. Meijer is pissed. But as Jonathan V. Last points out at The Bulwark, “Meijer has spent the last year-plus running away from impeachment and just kind of hoping that his voters would forget about it.” Furthermore, Last calls B.S. on Meijer’s logic here since he “and his apologists are insisting that his own voters lack agency and that they would have made `the right choice’ if only Democrats hadn’t told the voters who and what John Gibbs is.” (August 3, 2022)
Do red state legislators want to challenge the rule of law in blue states? Bring it on! says Lindsay Beyerstein at The New Republic. “The red states have declared war not only on abortion rights and women’s equality but also on the bedrock principles that allow states to co-exist in a functional federal union,” Beyerstein writes. “They have set us on a course of rancor and division, of escalating provocation and reprisal. Blue states have no choice but to act decisively to protect our rights and our people. Red states want a culture war? Let’s give ’em one.” (August 2, 2022)
At the New York Times, Lara Putnam and Micah L. Sifry ask why, after a vast mobilization ousted Donald J. Trump in 2020, “Democratic establishment and progressive organizations alike are doubling down on the same old tactics”—getting volunteers to cold-call voters and sending endless emails designed to spike anxiety that we can only ease by giving money. “In elections where voters are already getting bombarded with ads,” Putnam and Sifry write, “the odds that a volunteer contact can help get people to the polls may be canceled out by the odds the contact will turn them off entirely.” What turns voters on? Boots on the ground community organizing. (August 1, 2022)