What the Kansas vote to protect abortion rights means post-Roe

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Kansas’ landslide vote to protect abortion rights in context: The post-Roe landscape in 3 charts

Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support abortion rights. Tuesday’s landslide election in Kansas marks the first time that public opinion has translated to actual votes since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, supercharging the national debate over reproductive rights.

Kansans rejected by nearly 20 points an amendment that would’ve stripped the state constitution’s protection for abortion rights — in a state that then-President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2020. The result is a symbolic victory for abortion rights advocates across the nation and tangibly protects abortion access in a state surrounded by more-restrictive laws.

“I thought it was going to be a really close election,” said Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School and an expert on reproductive rights. “I’m from Kansas and spent three weeks there last month and felt the energy on the ground, but I was worried all that energy was going to be concentrated in a bubble and that it would be overpowered by other parts of the state,” she said.

The vote went 59-41 in favor of abortion rights advocates, powered by twice the normal primary turnout, even though the circumstances of the election were largely tilted against them. The vote was held in a primary, which typically brings out more Republican voters in the state, and the amendment itself was somewhat confusingly worded. To protect abortion rights, voters had to vote no to the amendment. And in the lead up to election day, text message campaigns funded by conservative groups stoked more confusion by stating a yes vote would protect choice.

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“Even with a stacked deck, you’re seeing a massive victory,” Donley said. “The funny thing is that this has been played out in polling for a fairly long time, but no one has really believed it. … I think it speaks really loud volumes about what average Americans think.”

Grid took a look at some of the latest data on abortion access in the U.S. and how voters are thinking about the issue nationwide ahead of the midterm elections this fall.

Lay of the land

Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision came down, eight states have enacted total abortion bans, with several more tightening restrictions. Oklahoma has enacted perhaps the most restrictive law, prohibiting abortion at the point of fertilization — a move experts worry could endanger fertility treatments.

Several states where abortion is currently legal but not protected by state law could eventually see abortion bans or strict limits, either because the states could start enforcing existing laws, such as Michigan and Montana, or lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation soon, including Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Pill demand surges

As clinics close in states enacting abortion bans, demand for medication abortion is surging.

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Hey Jane, an online abortion clinic that can prescribe and ship abortion pills, told Grid that it has seen an 18 percent increase in patients and a 107 percent increase in website visitors from June to July.

Just the Pill, an abortion access nonprofit operating in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming, saw appointment requests jump 83 percent in the four weeks after Roe fell, from 437 in the month before to 801 the month after.

Choix, a telemedicine clinic providing medication abortion in California, Colorado, Illinois and New Mexico, told Grid website traffic spiked 600 percent the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and it has seen a 50 percent increase in patients seeking care since, along with an uptick in the number of people traveling to receive care from states with abortion restrictions.

Shifting public opinion

Polling has consistently shown majority support for abortion rights, a sentiment that has only grown since the Supreme Court’s verdict in Dobbs v. Jackson, which ended the national right to abortion. Nearly two-thirds of adults disapprove of the Supreme Court decision to reverse. Those numbers cut across party affiliation, but the issue is especially motivating for women, Democrats and Independents, according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“I’ve been saying this for a while: If we win in Kansas, it would be the blueprint for the abortion rights movement going forward about how to restore access in red states. If you disentangle abortion from party lines and put this in referenda and state constitutional votes, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see abortion restored in states like Texas and Georgia, not to mention more purple states like Michigan where you see people pursuing this strategy already.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Jonathan Lambert
    Jonathan Lambert

    Public Health Reporter

    Jonathan Lambert is a public health reporter for Grid focused on how science, policy and the environment shape our collective well-being.

  • Alex Leeds Matthews
    Alex Leeds Matthews

    Data Visualization Reporter

    Alex Leeds Matthews is a data visualization reporter at Grid.