Kansas abortion vote: Major victory for pro-choice groups

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The conservative US state of Kansas has decided in a referendum to protect abortion rights – in a major victory for pro-choice groups.

Voters overwhelmingly said they did not wish to amend the state constitution to assert there is no right to abortion.

It was the first electoral test of the issue since the US Supreme Court allowed states to ban the procedure.

If the ballot had gone the other way, lawmakers could have moved to further restrict or ban abortion in the state.

The ballot question in Kansas had been hotly anticipated since the US Supreme Court two months ago overturned Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalised abortion nationwide.

Projections suggest Kansans voted by more than 60% to uphold the state’s constitutional right for women to access abortion.

When Roe v Wade was overturned, President Biden said abortion rights would be an issue for the voters. What’s happened in Kansas has turned that theory into evidence.

Donald Trump won Kansas by 15 points just two years ago, but has now voted to protect abortion access by what is being seen as a landslide.

It’s just a projection for now, and the official result will be confirmed in a week.

But for Democrats and pro-choice groups, this is a sign that Americans are deeply unhappy with abortion rights being overturned – and see the Supreme Court’s decision as out of step with the public.

The US holds national mid-term elections on 8 November, with Democrats fighting to retain control of Congress.

Taylor Hirth with her daughter

US President Joe Biden said the result showed “the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion”.

One voter, Taylor Hirth, wept as she celebrated the result with her nine-year-old daughter at a watch party in Overland Park, Kansas.

“I’m a rape survivor, and the thought of my daughter ever becoming pregnant and not being able to do anything about it angers me,” she told the BBC.

“I never thought this would happen here, but we have worked so hard here to get the vote out. Republicans underestimated us.”

Kansas officials 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.

With feelings running high in the month before the vote, a Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary were defaced with red paint and a pro-choice slogan.

On the eve of the ballot, some Kansans had received misleading texts urging them to “vote yes” to protect choice, but the opposite was true. Tech company Twilio said it had suspended the anonymous sender from its platform.

Although Kansas is staunchly conservative, its abortion regulations are less strict than many other Republican-led states.

It allows pregnancies to be terminated up to 22 weeks with other restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for children.

The legislature of the Great Plains state is controlled by anti-abortion Republicans, but its politically vulnerable governor, Laura Kelly, is a Democrat. She had warned that changing the state constitution would throw Kansas “back into the dark ages”.

More than a dozen Republican-led states have moved to ban or further restrict abortion since the Supreme Court decision on 24 June.

But 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.

Separately, elections were held in Michigan, Arizona, Missouri and the north-western state of Washington. Two of the nation’s most hotly fought races for governor and Senate races that will determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress next year were in play.

Mr Trump endorsed a slate of candidates who have amplified his unsubstantiated claims that he lost the November 2020 presidential election because of mass voter fraud.

In Michigan’s governor race, Trump-endorsed media personality Tudor Dixon won the Republican primary to take on Democrat Gretchen Whitmer in November.

In Michigan's governor race, Trump-endorsed media personality Tudor Dixon won the Republican primary

Vote counts were ongoing for other Trump-backed candidates, including Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake.

READ ALSO: News Update: Sarah Palin announces US Congress bid

Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified before a congressional committee about Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, looked on course to lose his seat to a Trump-backed challenger.

In Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt comfortably beat scandal-plagued former Governor Eric Greitens.

On the eve of the vote, Mr Trump had announced his endorsement for “Eric”, but his spokesman did not clarify which one he meant.

Elsewhere, three Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump last year faced off against candidates backed by the former president.

Peter Meijer of Michigan conceded defeat to John Gibbs, who served as Mr Trump’s Assistant Housing Secretary. Mr Gibbs has repeated the former president’s false claims of election fraud and has claimed that the the 2020 election results were “mathematically impossible”.

Meanwhile, Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington were fighting for their political lives.

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