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A few weeks ago, I got into an argument with my mother about Amendment 2, an attempt in the State of Kansas to amend the State Constitution to allow restrictions on abortion without interference from the State Supreme Court. The court had ruled in 2019, via the use of auguries and animal entrails because it sure wasn’t in the actual language, that the Constitution allowed abortion on demand. Mom’s politics are all over the place, but her religious beliefs are pretty nearly Fundamentalist, so it felt a little surreal to find out she was voting no. In our half-hour argument, I bet I heard the words “ectopic pregnancy” and “miscarriage’ at least a dozen times. I assured her that the amendment wouldn’t threaten the life of the mother in difficult pregnancy situations and kept trying to steer the conversation back to abortion, but she would have none of it. At one point, she yelled, “If this thing passes, women are gonna die.” Later, as I reflected on the conversation, for the first time I sensed that the amendment might lose.
Prior to the Dobbs decision, I had no such sense. Throughout the springtime, you only saw signs supporting a yes vote and the ads on the radio were all for the affirmative. I live a rather sheltered life here in the heartland, but there didn’t seem to be much national interest in our debate and all the enthusiasm was on one side. That continued past the leaked Alito opinion, but it radically changed when the Dobbs decision became official. For the pro-abortion crowd, the Kansas election suddenly became the most important vote in the world. The election still didn’t generate much national journalistic interest (we are talking about Kansas, after all), but a massive amount of money came pouring into the State. “No” vote ads swamped social media and the airwaves and signs began to pop up all over. Every day brought another “vote no” flyer in the mail.
The ads were smart. Apparently, the word “abortion” and the phrase “woman’s right to choose” didn’t do well in focus groups so the ads rarely used the word “abortion” and also steered clear of “choice,” except to pair it with the word “freedom.” The flyers used the f-word a lot and argued that the amendment was an attempt to take away our hard-fought freedoms. They also emphasized how poorly worded the amendment was. That was probably the most honest point on the flyer. It WAS poorly worded. It was bad grammatically and even had a spelling error. It read like it was written by someone making his last wish for the genie and trying cover all the loopholes that might get him killed.
And the flyers and ads talked a lot about ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. It wasn’t hard to figure out where Mom got her information.
That kind of persuasion can be effective here. Nationally, Kansas is considered solidly a red state, but it’s more of a Republican state than a conservative state and the Republican party here is hopelessly fractured. There is a core that is solidly conservative that constitutes maybe half the party and the remaining half is moderate and incredibly fickle. When they don’t like the conservative approach, throw their lot in with the small but dogged Democratic Party. And the moderates are easily swayed. That’s how we ended with more years under Democratic governors than with Republican governors over the last sixty years. That’s how we ended up with a Supreme Court that would, on the surface, seem more at home in, say, Oregon than in red-state Kansas.
The last poll before the vote indicated that yes was still winning, although the poll was well within the margin of error and indicated that 10% of those polled were still undecided. I wasn’t surprised that it lost, but the final tally was a shock. The no vote won by almost twenty points. It wasn’t a turnout issue either. Turnout was huge, way beyond what we normally see in a primary in an off-year election.
I would imagine that the pro-life people will try again at some point, but the margin is daunting. This is not something that can be fixed just by wording the amendment better. Pro-lifers are going to have to come up with better arguments and they’d better be prepared for a whole new set of lies to fight through next time. Even then, it might not be enough.Published in