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Pro-lifers call Kansas abortion defeat a 'temporary setback'

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Democrats and pro-choice activists are celebrating after Kansas voters on Tuesday rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed state lawmakers to regulate abortion.

With 95% of precincts reporting, a ballot referendum that would have removed abortion rights protections from the Kansas constitution was defeated 59% to 41%, a nearly 20-point spread that was a definitive win for pro-choice groups. The amendment, called the Value Them Both Amendment, would have affirmed that "the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion."

The amendment would have overruled a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that found the state's constitution guarantees a right to abortion, which has limited the ability of lawmakers to restrict abortion access.

Tuesday's referendum was the first major test of voter sentiment about abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the abortion issue back to the states.

President Joe Biden led Democrats in welcoming the referendum results. "Voters in Kansas turned out in record numbers to reject extreme efforts to amend the state constitution to take away a woman's right to choose and open the door for a state-wide ban," the president 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 health care decisions," Biden said.

He also called on Congress to "restore the protections of Roe as federal law" and promised that his administration would "continue to take meaningful action to protect women's access to reproductive health care."

The amendment's defeat is a major setback for the pro-life movement in Kansas and a surprising result for what is generally considered a red state. Pro-life lawmakers planned to have the ballot referendum coincide with the state's primary elections to increase the chances it would pass. In the past decade, twice as many Republicans have voted in Kansas primary elections than Democrats, according to the Associated Press.

Emily Massey, a spokeswoman for the Value Them Both Coalition, which supported the amendment, called the defeat a "temporary setback" in a statement.

Pro-choice activists celebrated the decision and predicted that the abortion issue will motivate women to defeat anti-abortion lawmakers in November's midterm elections.

"As the first state to vote on abortion rights following the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas is a model for a path to restoring reproductive rights across the country through direct democracy. From Michigan to Nevada, we have the opportunity to protect abortion access at the ballot box in November. We know that Kansas will not be our last fight, or our last victory,” Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement.

Kansas law restricts abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy to medical emergency cases where the mother's life is in danger. The state also requires pregnant women to be given an ultrasound before they obtain an abortion. These restrictions will remain in effect after Tuesday's vote, but it is unclear what other restrictions will be permissible under the state constitution.

But pro-life groups say they will continue the fight for a right to life.

"While the outcome is not what we hoped, our movement and campaign have proven our resolve and commitment," Kansans for Life said in a statement. "We will not abandon women and babies."

Republican lawmakers say they will continue to look for legally permissible ways to reduce the number of abortions in the state.

"The defeat this evening is disappointing," state Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R) said, according to NPR. "That struggle for truth, and the struggle for life, is going to continue in the state of Kansas."

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