Yesterday’s vote to safeguard Kansas’ (admittedly limited) reproductive rights sent a shockwave through the pundit community and a boost to progressive efforts around the country. If a deep red state that Trump won by over 20 points in 2016 could reject the conservative push to ban abortion in every instance, could there be an opening to reach Kansan and other conservative voters on issues that they align with the Democratic party on?
To figure that out, it would be useful to look at the strategies and messaging that the activists on the ground used to achieve this victory. It was an uphill task, made harder by deceptive and misleading framing of the referendum. The sponsors of the bill also decided to place it in the primary, where voters tend to be more partisan than those in the general election, and typically Democratic voters don’t participate. Then there was this deeply misleading messaging that was sent to voters by abortion foes.
“Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights. Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health,”
Despite these tactics, the bill failed by a 59-41 margin. How did this happen?
- Money: Pro-choice groups outspent abortion foes by $6 million to $4.4 million.
- Messaging: Pro-choice activists framed the fight as a rejection of government mandates over individual freedom. Here are some of the ads that were used –
"It's a strict government mandate designed to interfere with private medical decisions ... Kansans don't want another government mandate."
"Do no harm. That's the oath we take as doctors. But now the government wants to force doctors ...to break that oath ...It's a government mandate that could ban all abortions with no exceptions, even rape and incest"
"Growing up Catholic, we didn't talk about abortion. But now it's on the ballot ... If it were my granddaughter, I wouldn't want the government making that decision for her."
"It gives government more power over your privacy and your personal medical decisions. Don't let politicians take away your freedom."
"As Christians we are instructed to love one another. We do so when we respect and trust women as God does. I'm voting No ... because it replaces religious freedom with government control."
By cleverly framing the issue in terms that were valued by Kansan voters, the pro-choice movement was able to prevail.
- Voter Rage: The Dobbs decision galvanized women in Kansas who realized that they were in danger of having their bodily autonomy taken away from them. As this chart shows, voter registration among Kansan women spiked after the Dobbs decision.
- Grassroots activism: Volunteers for the Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a bipartisan coalition set up to defeat the bill, knocked on doors and set up phone banks to reach every potential voter to explain the misleading language of the bill and the impact o=f a yes or no vote.
Abortion rights are going to be on the ballot on several states this year in November. Find out if your state is one of those. And even if it isn’t, it's only logical that this loss in Kansas will only spur the increasingly evangelical GOP to ban abortions at a federal level if and when they come to power. Let’s get out the vote these midterms and make sure that never happens. The Kansas result shows that we have real momentum in the wake of the Supreme Court Dobbs ruling. Let's take advantage of that.
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