Photo: Evert Nelson/TBEN
In a conference room at the Sheraton in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, people shouted, cheered, cheered and cried as a vote was cast late Tuesday night to protect abortion rights in the Kansas state constitution.
And it wasn’t just Democrats.
James Quigley, 72, a retired physician and Republican from Johnson County, was sitting alone drinking a glass of white wine after hearing the news. “Abortion is a much more nuanced issue than anti-choice individuals would have you think,” he told The Guardian. “It’s deeply personal, sometimes tragic, but sometimes a liberating decision — and we have to trust women, their doctors and their God in that,” he said.
“We could feel it — we’ve been feeling it for weeks,” Marcia Corbett, 71, a voter and owner of a local business, told The Guardian before the vote came in.
The outcome was eagerly anticipated, as Kansas became the first state in the country to put abortion rights on the ballot since Roe v Wade — which she federally backed — was overturned by the Supreme Court. It came after weeks of uncertainty, in a race where misinformation abounded and tactics turned ugly.
Related: ‘I’m not a radical’: Kansas split for critical post-Roe abortion vote
The victory — and its sheer magnitude in a generally reliable Republican and socially conservative state like Kansas — sent shockwaves across the United States and kick-started efforts to protect abortion rights under siege across America.
In Kansas, that battle had gotten dirty. On Tuesday, a former Republican congressman was linked to messages targeting voters with anonymous, misleading text encouraging people to vote yes to protect abortion — when, in effect, a yes vote would have destroyed a constitutional right to abortion. Vandals also sprayed the walls of a Catholic church weeks earlier with the phrase “My body, my choice”.
Even on voting day, victory did not seem certain.
On Tuesday, as the vote began, the mood in Douglas County looked amicable on a hot, sticky day, where temperatures were constantly threatening to reach the hundreds. The polling booths in Lawrence and Eudora saw a steady stream of voters, even in the middle of the day, with dozens of voters queuing at any time to vote. Many were not affiliated, but only showed up to vote in the referendum.
We are a Republican state. And we generally don’t vote that way.
At the Eudora Community Center, in Douglas County, Patrick Perry, 43, a mechanic and registered Republican, said he voted no to protect abortion. A veteran who had fought in Iraq said he voted because of his own “personal circumstances” — his wife needed an abortion in a medical emergency during their marriage, in a pregnancy that would otherwise have cost her her life. But he didn’t expect Kansas to side with him. “We’re a Republican state,” he said. “And we generally don’t vote that way.”
But one night with a huge turnout, Kansas voted to protect abortion in the state’s constitution, with the no vote securing a whopping 59% to 41% of the anti-abortion movement.
Related: Kansas votes to protect abortion rights in state constitution
Early in the evening, the mood had been cautiously hopeful at the Kansas for Constitutional Freedom event in Overland Park, with a no vote from the start. “We are leading the way, and no is better than yes!” said a young girl to her mother, from Missouri. The two had been recruiting together for weeks.
Democratic Congresswoman Sharice Davids got up early in the night to speak and told the audience of about 100 people: “The [supreme court] decision definitely felt like a punch to a lot of people in our community… But we got up and got to work.”
After the speeches, all eyes in the room were on a television projection blaring MSNBC election statistics guru Steve Kornacki.
“Imagine how good we will feel if we defeat the anti-abortion movement and the Republicans, who lied at every turn,” state congressman Stephanie Clayton told The Guardian.
Today we learned that organizers are more powerful than ever. We’ve done the impossible
“I feel really good now,” Leslie Butsch said at 8:30 p.m. with tears in her eyes. She watched as the mood in Johnson County first showed signs of leaning heavily toward no, after spending weeks knocking on the doors of her evenings there. An hour later, when the vote came in, she was one of the few people without a celebratory drink in her hand—she’d just spent all her money tipping the bar staff in a fit of luck.
“I feel overwhelmed with gratitude,” she told The Guardian. “Today we learned that organizers are more powerful than ever. We’ve done the impossible,” she said.
State Senator Dinah Sikes burst into tears as the vote was held, covering her mouth and showing goosebumps on her arms. “It’s just great. It’s breathtaking that women’s voices were heard and we care about women’s health,” she said.
She knew the vote would be close in a state that would give Trump a 15% lead over Biden in the 2020 presidential election. “But we were close in a lot of rural areas and that really made all the difference — I’m just so thankful” , she said.
Ashley All, the spokesperson for KCF, told the Guardian that the success of their campaign was evidence of impartiality – and other states should beware. “It will be interesting for other states to look at this and see that this is not a partisan issue,” she said.
Joe Biden made a statement late on Tuesday about the results. Kansas voters showed up in record numbers to reject extreme attempts to amend the state constitution to take away women’s right to vote and open the door to a statewide ban.
“This vote clarifies what we know: The majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and the right to make their own health care decisions.”
Meanwhile, the defeated anti-abortion group Kansans for Life sent an email to supporters after the vote, expressing their dismay. For a movement that has been on the rise in America—since before Roe was overthrown, and after—it was clear they had dealt a powerful blow.
“The mainstream media propelled the false narrative from the left, adding to the confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment,” it said. It is a second attempt at forcing this issue in Kansas, it added: “Our movement and campaign have proven our determination and commitment. We will not abandon women and babies.”