Charlotte 101.3 - Greenville 97.3 - Boone 92.9 - WSIF Wilkesboro 90.9
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The next battle over abortion rights is taking place in Kansas


Kansans will vote tomorrow on a state constitutional amendment that could vastly tighten abortion laws. It's the first ballot measure in the country on reproductive rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is in eastern Kansas.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: It was heating up on the asphalt in a Shawnee, Kan., parking lot Saturday morning. Value Them Both, an anti-abortion rights group, was rallying to amp up their door-knockers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right, good morning.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. Are we ready to win on August 2?


KURTZLEBEN: For months now, Kansans have been answering the door to countless canvassers on both sides of the Value Them Both amendment. The measure centers on a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision saying the state constitution protects the right to terminate a pregnancy. The amendment would negate that, making explicit that abortion is not protected. Currently, the state bans most abortions after 22 weeks and imposes other rules, like a 24-hour waiting period. The amendment itself wouldn't change any laws, but it would open the door to more restrictions.

Here's Neal Allen, political science professor at Wichita State University.

NEAL ALLEN: I wouldn't be surprised if yes passes. There could be a total ban on abortion come February of next year, or there could be just lots and lots of stringent regulations that make it very difficult to access abortion services.

KURTZLEBEN: The vote-yes side insists the amendment merely allows legislators to choose new laws. However, they have also been tight-lipped about what laws they might pursue. Nora Ley, an 18-year-old canvasser, was at the Value Them Both rally. She explained how she responds to concern from abortion rights supporters.

NORA LEY: I think protecting lives and also keeping women informed and keeping them safe is just so important. And even if this were to pass, it's not going to be exactly like a total ban right away, and especially not in any situations where it could endanger a woman.

KURTZLEBEN: The amendment's opponents firmly believe that if it passes, an abortion ban is coming and that it would endanger some women. Their fervor is further fueled by the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Even in this red state, the race is tight. A recent poll found a slight lead for the vote-yes side. Canvasser Chuck Cordray, who opposes the amendment, explained between houses on Saturday that for the vote-no side, energizing people to turn out is everything.

CHUCK CORDRAY: The momentum is on our side. If we had another four weeks, I know we'd win. And I think we're going to win, but it'd be even more.

KURTZLEBEN: Some voters he spoke to don't need a nudge, like Democrat Lauren Van Loo.

LAUREN VAN LOO: Fun secret - found out I was pregnant the very week that - found out that was going to be overturned. And I said, it still affects me, even though I'm choosing to do this of my own volition. It could have been another way, and I could have had to make a different choice.

KURTZLEBEN: Similarly, there's Josh Harris, who spoke outside the Johnson County elections office just after he voted yes.

JOSH HARRIS: I think it should all be banned, period - no abortions.

KURTZLEBEN: Like, no exceptions...

HARRIS: No exceptions.

KURTZLEBEN: No. Got you.

HARRIS: No. God controls life. You know what? He'll deal with it.

KURTZLEBEN: But also important will be some voters who have not engaged much with the issue. Mick Krebs answered the door Friday to anti-abortion rights canvassers but told them he's a no because he wants his daughters to make decisions about their own bodies.

MICK KREBS: I hadn't really thought about it until this. And so I guess I really hadn't because I was kind of already on the side of, I would say, where it was, versus now it's - you got options, I guess.

KURTZLEBEN: Tuesday's vote will be the first test of abortion politics in a post-Dobbs America and a sign for other states considering abortion measures.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, Overland Park, Kan.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAN AMERICAN'S "THE CLOUD ROOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.