Voters in Kansas have rejected a bid by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to amend the state’s constitution in a way that would have paved the way for lawmakers to ban or restrict abortion.
The referendum was the first electoral test of public opinion in the US since the Supreme Court in June stripped away federal protection for the procedure.
On Wednesday morning, with 96 per cent of votes counted, the No campaign was ahead by 59 per cent to 41 per cent, pointing to a crushing defeat for Republicans and anti-abortion activists who had backed the so-called Value Them Both amendment.
US president Joe Biden said the vote made it clear that the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own healthcare decisions.
“Congress should listen to the will of the American people and restore the protections of Roe as federal law,” he said.
The result followed a bitterly fought campaign that attracted nationwide attention, coming shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling gave states the right to regulate abortion.
Analysts said the victory by the abortion rights movement in a conservative state, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, suggested that the public backlash to Supreme Court’s ruling might be stronger than expected.
It could also energise the abortion rights movement ahead of several other planned ballots buoy Democrats in the lead-up to November’s midterm elections, they added.
“A win in a red state will help the pro-choice movement in terms of raising funding and recruitment volunteers, as they look to upcoming votes in other states,” said Michael Smith, professor of politics at Emporia State University in Kansas.
He said Kansans might normally be relied on to elect Republicans at the state and national level, but did not endorse everything the party proposed owing to a libertarian streak and a distaste for big government.
“That could be taxes or proposals from the Democrats. But this vote suggests it may also apply to regulating one’s own body,” said Smith.
Neal Allen, a political analyst at Wichita State University, said the victory was significant and suggested Republicans would struggle to win planned referendums to restrict abortion in other states.
“If you can’t win a vote to restrict abortion in Kansas, then you can probably only win in a few states,” Allen said.
The proposed Value Them Both amendment would have overturned a 2019 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that found women had the right to make decisions about their bodies, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.
The amendment was promoted by conservative lawmakers and church groups who wanted to alter the state’s constitution to enable the legislature to pass laws to restrict abortion access.
Planned Parenthood, one of the largest funders of the campaign against the referendum, said the result meant Kansas would remain one of the only states in the region that safeguards abortion and a critical access point for women from neighbouring states with bans in place.