TOPEKA, KS – The fate of a proposed amendment to the Kansas anti-abortion constitution might depend more on when it would appear on the ballot paper than on the language used by the Republican legislature.
Proponents of the proposal to overturn the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights last Thursday announced that they would conduct their pre-election action in August. They believe that there is a better chance of participating in these lower turnout elections than in the November general election.
However, some moderate Republicans refuse to put the proposal in the first choice, arguing that such an important issue in the election should be resolved with the highest possible turnout. They also have the prospect of an election question in August that could cause conservative voters to vote, making it difficult for moderate GOP candidates to win primary races.
“Some of us noticed that – yes,” said MP Don Hineman, a moderate Republican from West Kansas who lost the position of majority leader of the House of Representatives after the Conservatives gained influence in the 2018 election.
Kansans for Life and other anti-abortion groups outlined the proposed change on Thursday. Opponents of abortion need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to get on the ballot. The voters would then have to approve the measure with a simple majority. The legislature chooses the election date.
Election year policies are already hanging over the debate. All 40 seats in the Senate and House of Representatives are on the ballot this year. Moderates hope to gain influence within the GOP and Democrats who want to break Republican super-majorities.
A hotly contested Republican area code for an open seat in the U.S. Senate is likely to be a conservative choice in August.
“This is an ongoing conversation people are having,” said MP Tom Cox, a moderate Kansas City Republican who supports an amendment and says he has no preferred date. “It probably hurts the Democrats when they’re on the general staff, and the moderate Republicans when they’re on the primary level.”
Legislators have had a solid majority against abortion for two decades, but both sides say that legislative voting on a proposed constitutional change could be scarce. Opponents of abortion barely managed to overturn the Democratic government’s Laura Kelly veto last year over a bill that requires abortion providers to inform patients of controversial treatment to stop medication abortion once it begins.
The Kansans for Life and GOP leaders are trying to stop any pressure on an abortion ban because they fear it will fail.
“Whether it’s the general or the primary, it’s all that has the best chance of survival,” said House majority leader Dan Hawkins, a conservative Wichita republican. “We want to make it.”
The Kansas Supreme Court ruling in April declared abortion access a “fundamental right” according to the state bill. Opponents of abortion fear that if they do not change the state’s constitution, state courts will void a number of past abortion restrictions if they do not change the state’s constitution a decade before Kelly, an abortion rights advocate, took office a year ago.
The proposed change is based on a change approved in 2014 by voters in Tennessee. She states that the state constitution does not “secure” an abortion right, and lawmakers can legislate to limit or regulate abortion, unless the US constitution provides for it.
Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, said before the press conference that the group wanted to ensure that the topic was not lost among the other electoral questions. This is less likely in elementary school, she said.
“Kansans are very passionate about the matter and therefore have the opportunity to vote on it and on a ballot by not being buried on a long ballot below,” said Gawdun.
Some proponents of abortion rights believe they have a better chance of thwarting the change in a general election, partly because far more independent voters are participating.
Indeed, MP Warmita Democrat John Carmichael, who supports abortion rights, said: “You will generally lose the amendment.”
Voter turnout will surely be higher in the general election if President Donald Trump takes part in the election. In the last presidential election year 2016, the primary turnout was 22%, compared to a general turnout of 67%.
“If you want to get a broader perspective of how the state feels, you probably want to run an election where more voters vote,” said Republican Brenda Dietrich, a moderate Topeka Republican.
Rachel Sweet, a lobbyist for the Planned Parenthood Great Plains, described it as “cynical” to ask the question in the main vote to increase the chance of overtaking by restricting turnout.
“The organizations that support this and the legislators who want to enforce it think from a political perspective: how can we get our people to show themselves and how can we get the most benefit from expanding the conservative base ? ” She said.
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