Opinion

In wake of amendment loss, anti-abortion Kansans face a choice: Take the L or fight the power

August 16, 2022 3:33 am
Shawnee County election workers tabulate provisional ballots that the county's board of canvassers approved during a meeting Monday morning in Topeka. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Shawnee County election workers tabulate provisional ballots that the county’s board of canvassers approved during a meeting Monday morning in Topeka. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Losing hurts the soul. It throws our basic beliefs — in oneself, in the notion of a just world — into turmoil.

Ultimately, we choose to do one of two things. We can look at the loss dispassionately, hoping to learn from the experience. Or we can decide that the loss wasn’t, actually, a loss at all. Something else interfered with our rightful victory. We’re certainly not to blame.

Anti-abortion forces in Kansas face just such a choice right now.

Their constitutional amendment failed by nearly 20 percentage points at the ballot box earlier this month. How they decide to interpret that loss will determine whether they continue as a major force in state politics or wither away into political irrelevance. They can reflect on the campaign, on the wasted political capital and paradoxical messaging choices (let’s ask people to vote for an abortion ban but deny that’s what it is). Or they can decide that their loss was a conspiracy and fraud, deny themselves any culpability, and charge forward into oblivion.

In the first camp, we have state Rep. Steve Howe.

A week after the amendment’s defeat, he wrote the following: “While it is tempting to speculate on the reasons this proposition failed or spend time pointing fingers, I would rather leave that to the political scientists who do that for a living. Moving forward as a YES voter, I realized that my focus needs to be on what I can do in my own community to support pregnant women, especially those in crisis. Each of us can seek out ways to value life. Consider learning about organizations in your community that minister to pregnant women who need help and support.”

His statement continues for a bit, urging support of crisis pregnancy centers (which have their own issues), before concluding.

“There are many ways you can choose to support life,” he writes. “It does not have to be written on a ballot. It only has to be written on your heart.”

Rep. Steven Howe, a conservative Salina Republican. said Kansans disappointed by failure of constitutional amendment on abortion need to focus on their own communities and working to support pregnant women who might seek abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Steven Howe, a conservative Salina Republican. said Kansans disappointed by failure of constitutional amendment on abortion need to focus on their own communities and working to support pregnant women who might seek abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Howe’s approach requires maturity. It requires caring about the welfare of mothers-to-be and their infants. It requires patience, determination and an understanding that change doesn’t come just from notching political wins, but by changing beliefs and behaviors.

That’s why other amendment supporters want to deny they lost at all.

Enter Melissa Leavitt and her bizarre quest for a hand recount of the amendment vote. The Colby resident teamed up with Mark Gietzen of the Kansas Coalition for Life in an attempt to raise nearly a quarter-million dollars to begin the process. While she said voter integrity was her paramount concern, she didn’t rule out the possibility that it might overturn the result.

“I have no idea if 165,000 votes can be swung in a state, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” she said in a TikTok video posted Saturday. “However, the data we get from doing a statewide hand count would tell us a lot.”

You might indeed learn a lot through such a recount. The information might be valuable for activists looking to understand how closely election night totals match a count conducted by a different method. But if you also hope to see the winning margin disappear, I have bad news for you. You’re just not.

As of Monday afternoon, with a 5 p.m. deadline from Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office looming, Leavitt was raising money for the cause through a crowdfunding platform. Instead of volunteering to buy diapers or supplies, as Howe suggested, Kansans were putting up money in a futile quest to deny reality.

The comments offer a look into the denialist mindset.

Go get those evil fraudsters! 

I didn’t think the vote for no was correct! Thanks for doing this!

THANK YOU, Missy, for leading the charge on behalf of election integrity in Kansas. We are with you 100% and look expectantly for God to MORE than meet the need of the hour!

God has nothing to do with this, guys. He’s not going to bless your efforts. A full recount won’t change the vote, and neither will the scaled-back effort that eventually went forward Monday evening.

Conservatives were once fond of saying that facts don’t care about your feelings. This is true, although feelings can certainly help drive the creation of new facts on the ground, given the time and circumstances. In this case, however, the saying stands.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump led the way on this, embracing the big lie that he won the 2020 election. Brave Republicans on all levels of government joined Democrats in upholding the truth of our free and fair elections, but that didn’t change his behavior. As such, he shaped an entire political movement in his image. It embraces conspiracy theories, denial and fascism, rather than accepting that losing is part of life.

Winning or losing an election doesn’t have anything to do with the virtue of one side’s cause. It has to do with who received the most votes.

If the Kansas anti-abortion movement hopes to remain a part of public conversation, those involved would be well-advised to follow Howe’s lead rather than Leavitt’s. They might even find that many who voted against the amendment would support them in that mission.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting 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, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly 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.

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