These four dumb responses totally misread the stunning Kansas abortion rights vote

August 8, 2022 3:33 am
Attendees of the Kansans for Constitutional Freedom watch party celebrate after primary election results verify Kansans voted to keep abortion a constitutional right on Tuesday. (Lily O'Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Attendees of the Kansans for Constitutional Freedom watch party celebrate after primary election results verify Kansans voted to keep abortion a constitutional right. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

You could tell that no one was prepared for the nearly 20-point victory by abortion rights forces in Kansas by the incredibly dumb takes that soon followed.

Anti-abortion supporters, insulated by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past half-century from the unpopularity of their beliefs, were faced with a broad public rebuke. This wasn’t a basically 50-50 vote, with a handful of folks in the middle deciding the state’s direction. Many observers (including me!) expected some version of that outcome and were resigned to endless wrangling over what the results meant. I discussed with several folks the possibility of legal action from one side or another, especially if the vote came down to provisional ballots.

Nope, instead Kansans voted 59-41% to protect abortion rights. Those supporting the amendment couldn’t cope. They couldn’t comprehend. So they decided to explain the results as best they could — which didn’t go well.

Here are four of my favorite bad takes from the hours and days after the primary.


You confused us! With the language we wrote!

Pundit and radio host Erick Erickson doesn’t live in Kansas, which should at least partially explain this terrible take. The abortion amendment text in question was written specifically by Republicans to elicit “yes” votes. Analysis from the Guardian broke down all the ways in which it misled.

To then claim, as Erickson does, that the amendment text prompted “no” votes instead boggles the mind. First of all, if it did, perhaps Kansas anti-abortion forces should have trusted their supporters more and written a more coherent question. Secondly, I defy anyone who actually lived in the state over the past two months to say they didn’t understand what votes in either direction meant. Again, this was supposed to be a low-turnout primary election. The fact that an unprecedented number of voters turned out proves they knew what they were voting for.

Finally, if you accept that a certain percentage of voters didn’t understand the question (likely in almost every ballot measure vote), does that explain a 59-41 margin? I doubt it.


Actually, this was because Kansans want more extremism

If Erickson’s tweet was undermined by the fact he didn’t live here or understand the context, Conservative Political Action Coalition chairman Matt Schlapp doesn’t have that excuse. He’s a Kansas native. He and his wife headlined an event promoting the amendment.

Did anyone believe before Tuesday that the anti-abortion amendment — which specifically cleared the way for a total ban on the procedure, as well as allowing a partial second-trimester ban to take effect — was too timid? How? Perhaps it could have specified the death penalty for doctors performing abortions and prison time for women obtaining them. That would certainly have received more votes.

Schlapp’s job in the conservative realm depends on building a narrative of the right as an unstoppable political force. A defeat like the one in Kansas calls the basics of that narrative into question. As such, he decided to just make stuff up.


Do you promise these are your final thoughts?

Speaking of just making stuff up, we come to Kansas Sen. Mike Thompson, a Republican from Shawnee.

When he isn’t berating windmills or spreading COVID-19 disinformation, the former meteorologist has deep feelings about abortion. And boy does he share them! You really have to read his entire Facebook post (I would advise doing so with a mixed drink), but in short he simply doesn’t believe Kansans support all of the horrible things he believes abortion is and does.

Guess what, senator? Infants aren’t being dismembered “moments from birth.” Kansas bans the procedure at 22 weeks and beyond. Folks are not abandoning New York, California and Illinois in droves. Kansas would be lucky to have these states’ problems. And hey, if more states allowed this safe medical procedure to be commonly available, perhaps folks wouldn’t come to Kansas out of necessity.

One could go on and on, but it’s the rhetorical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

Kansans wouldn’t support the horrible things Thompson outlines. Thankfully, however, these things don’t happen. Kansans also don’t want abortion banned without exceptions, which the coalition behind the amendment made perfectly clear was its plan from the beginning.


It was the media’s fault

We close with the statement from Value Them Both after the amendment failed. As columnist Eric Thomas pointed out last week, the coalition’s antagonistic relationship with the news media in Kansas likely contributed to its defeat. You can’t win if you don’t play the game, which means building relationships, answering reporters’ questions and allowing folks into your election night party to cover news.

Speaking as someone who wrote about these efforts since arriving at the Reflector, I saw no coverage that misled. If anything, coverage bent over backward to be fair (repeating, for instance, the coalition’s false talking point that the amendment wasn’t a ban). But advocacy groups can’t expect journalists to make their case. They have to do that work themselves.

While this statement doesn’t insult the intelligence as much as Erickson’s tweet, I do fixate on the word “confusion.” Was anyone actually confused about the amendment?


What happened Tuesday and what it means

All of these bad takes share a fundamental misunderstanding of what occurred Tuesday.

The vote wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats. As Ashley All of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom told Rolling Stone late last week, those who defeated the amendment understood that victory meant separating women’s fundamental rights from the partisan scrum. Yes, many Democrats voted no. But so did Republican and unaffiliated voters.

“Voters do not see abortion as a partisan issue,” she told the magazine. “We talk about it in a partisan frame, almost exclusively. And that is the wrong way to do it. You’ve got to be willing to have conversations with people across the political spectrum, in a way that allows them to have their own personal beliefs about the issue but still be willing to show up and vote to protect the rights of Americans to make decisions for themselves about abortion.”

What made the Kansas vote so unexpected and thrilling was that it showed we can still separate everyday, run-of-the-mill politics from civil rights.

That means the professional progressive class, those on the left, run the risk of looking dumb too.

This vote doesn’t portend midterm triumphs for Democrats. It doesn’t suggest that President Joe Biden will be reelected by a thundering majority. It doesn’t ensure a blue or red or purple or greenish-orange wave. It simply means that a broad spectrum of Kansans didn’t want abortion banned in their state.

That’s important enough, without any added nonsense.


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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.