Kansas abortion rights advocates and Democrats work to boost voter turnout

By: - July 7, 2022 3:48 pm
"Vote Yes" supporters protest at a rally for reproductive rights at South Park in Lawrence on June 4. "Vote No" supporters moved to cover anti-abortion signs. (Lily O'Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

“Vote Yes” supporters protest at a rally for reproductive rights at South Park in Lawrence on June 4. “Vote No” supporters moved to cover anti-abortion signs. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

LAWRENCE — Kansas advocacy groups and Democrats are working to broaden outreach to unaffiliated and young voters this summer to get Kansans to vote against the anti-abortion constitutional amendment on the Aug. 2 ballot.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the League of Women Voters of Kansas and the Kansas Democratic party have seen an increased interest in voting on the amendment. Rep. Christina Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat and member of the Navajo Nation, said anti-abortion policies disproportionately affect American Indians and is canvassing to encourage voter turnout. 

Martha Pint, co-president of League of Women Voters of Kansas, and Rebecca Perkins, Dickinson County Democratic chairwoman, say they are confronting the challenges created by legislators who placed the constitutional amendment on the primary ballot in an attempt to favor passage of the amendment. The primary is otherwise closed to independent voters, and few Democrats typically participate in comparison to Republicans.

There is “this huge hurdle that we have to overcome, to get it out there, to let people know you can vote, you just have to be registered, you don’t have to affiliate with any party to vote on this issue,” Pint said. “Now, if you want to vote on the candidates, different story. But on this issue, be registered and vote.”

Pint said the League of Women Voters Kansas found that some counties, including Sedgwick and Wyandotte, offer applications for advanced mail-in ballots that only list Republican and Democrat as options for party affiliation. Pint said this may mislead some unaffiliated voters to believe they can’t vote on Aug. 2.

Pint said the league brought this issue to the attention of officials. Sedgwick County adjusted its application for advance mail-in ballots to include unaffiliated and Libertarian as options. Wyandotte County’s advance mail-in ballot has not changed.

According to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, as of April, 44.3% of registered voters in Kansas identify as Republican, 28.8% identify as unaffiliated, 25.7% identify as Democrat, and 1.1% identify as Libertarian. 

Hundreds gather at South Park in Lawrence for a rally for reproductive rights on June 4. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

Perkins said her “favorite story” while handing out “Vote No” yard signs was when she went to deliver a sign to a rural home in Dickinson County. She said she approached a man in a pickup truck who told her he had been waiting for the signs to arrive.

“And they said, ‘I am probably the only Republican-slash-Libertarian you’ll find voting no on this question.’ And I said, ‘You will find you are far from the only Republican voting no,’ ” Perkins said. 

The amendment vote will be the first referendum in the U.S. pertaining to abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade. Those who vote “yes” support amending the Kansas Constitution to make it clear that women have no right to terminate a pregnancy. Those who vote “no” support a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that determined the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy applies to a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Perkins said she has seen a growing interest in voting “no” on the amendment from people in both political parties, men and women, and an uptick in the number of younger people participating in the Democratic Party in Dickinson county.

According to a survey conducted by The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, 60% of Kansans believe abortion should not be completely illegal in Kansas. The survey found 50.5% of respondents agree the Kansas government should not regulate the circumstances under which women can receive an abortion, while 25.4% believe the opposite.

“You know, there was a lot of naivete on the part of the Kansas legislative Republican leaders thinking that they could just get their way by putting this on a primary and thinking politics as usual would prevail,” Perkins said. “I think the overturning of Roe upends politics as we know it.”

Pint and Perkins said the demand for “Vote No” yard signs has increased in both the Wichita and Dickinson county areas. Both also said they’ve seen an increase in the number of young people who are participating. 

Pint said she was among 600 others at the U.S. League of Women Voters biennial convention in Denver when the decision ending Roe was issued.

“You want to talk about some upset women,” Pint said. “Oh my goodness, you couldn’t have asked for a better place to be, and you couldn’t have asked for a worse place to be, because we just all felt so upset and angry and defeated.”

Pint said convention goers joined a march for abortion rights in Denver.

Haswood said on the Kansas Reflector podcast she is “p***ed” about the possibility of Kansans losing reproductive rights. Because Haswood is running unopposed she said she is able to partially shift her campaign focus to voter turnout for the amendment. 

She also expressed concern for American Indians who will be affected if Kansans lose their right to choose an abortion. 

“You know, it’s not going to stop abortions, only safe abortions,” Haswood said. “And thinking about my Indigenous folks, we have one of the highest rates of maternal mortality, morbidity, preeclampsia, you know, we can go down the list on all that.”

American Indian and non-Hispanic Black women are approximately three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rep. Christina Haswood and Rep. Brandon Woodard prepare for a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast on June 30, 2022. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Haswood said the Hyde Amendment has affected American Indians’ rights and access to abortions.

The Hyde Amendment was passed by Congress in 1976 and forbids federal Medicaid funding to be used for abortion services, while some exceptions were added in 1993. Indian Health Services regulations follow the Hyde Amendment. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, many American Indian women living in the U.S. rely on IHS facilities for reproductive health services. Data suggests the majority of these facilities lack resources to provide abortions “under any circumstances.”

According to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, in 2018 Medicaid covered 1.8 million American Indian and Alaskan Native people. Of American Indian and Alaskan Native adults under the age of 65, 36% were covered by Medicaid in 2018. Of all adults in the United States, 22% are covered by Medicaid.

Data shows that 46% of American Indian women give birth to their first child before the age of 20.

Haswood said reproduction and sex education was interwoven in American Indian creation stories, until the colonization of American Indian land when American Indian women began to be sexualized.

She said American Indians historically practiced family planning and used herbal medicines for abortions.

“For me, I’m just so lucky to have my summer interns who are all as angry as I am,” Haswood said. “… We are training folks who want to volunteer and make this voter engagement because that is what the other side is doing, and they’ve been doing it since Roe v. Wade was (put) in place. So, now we have to help folks have voting plans.” 

The deadline to register for the primary election is July 12. Starting July 13, advance ballots will be mailed and in-person voting opens.


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Lily O'Shea Becker
Lily O'Shea Becker

Lily O’Shea Becker studied journalism at the University of Kansas. She was an intern with the Kansas Reflector for the 2022 summer. Lily has experience as a multimedia journalist, photojournalist, producer and copy editor for a variety of news outlets in Lawrence and at the University of Kansas.