Great Disappointment in Kansas Vote
In a major disappointment to pro-life advocates, Kansans voted a few days ago to reject a pro-life amendment that would have made clear that abortion is not protected in the state’s Constitution.
The amendment would have added the following language to the state Constitution, “Because Kansans value both women and children, the Constitution of the state of Kansas does not require the government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.” The amendment went on to note that the issue of abortion should be decided by the people, “through their elected state representatives.”
The effort to pass the amendment came after the Kansas Supreme Court discovered a “right” to abortion in a decision in 2019. That decision means that pro-life legislators in the state are prevented from passing almost any pro-life legislation. In response, pro-life advocates crafted and championed the “Value Them Both” amendment. The amendment was received well by legislators, with the Kansas House overwhelmingly approving it in 2021, and the Senate following suit earlier this year.
However, Kansas voters ultimately rejected this amendment with a surprising 59-41% majority vote. Surprising, I say, because polls prior to the vote had suggested that supporters of the amendment may have had the slight upper hand. Most political observers expected the vote to be much closer than it ultimately was.
Kansas Bishops Respond
Pro-life advocates in the state and nationally have responded with serious disappointment.
Kansas is a red state, surrounded by states where abortion is mostly or completely illegal post-Dobbs. If Kansas continues to keep abortion legal, and even liberalizes the practice, there is a very real risk that the state will become an abortion “tourist” destination (in fact, there is evidence that it already is). That is, parents unable to obtain an abortion in a nearby red state could simply cross the border to Kansas and have their unborn child killed there.
In a powerful statement responding to the vote, the Kansas Catholic Conference of Bishops expressed their own disappointment, saying that they are “sorry to see that the most vulnerable human being in our society—the unborn child—will not be protected but further treated with indifference and injustice.”
The bishops added:
We fully believe that all life is sacred and valuable by God’s design, especially the unborn. Despite the outcome, the Church will continue to help mothers in crisis pregnancy situations. We will still promote ways in which a mother may say yes to life instead of choosing an abortion.
The bishops also assured women who may have had abortions that, “The arms of the Church are always open so that those who are suffering may experience God’s mercy, compassion and healing by our words and actions.” They also thanked the “courage,” “generous support,” and “hard work” of those who worked to support the amendment.
Their statement concluded:
There is much more to be accomplished in helping our society see the value and dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. We trust that God will bring good out of evil. In the end, the truth wins! No matter how deep the darkness is, no matter how long it reigns, no matter how much it grows, it cannot destroy the light. Too often, it can seem that evil is winning, but we know that the darkness will never defeat the light of Christ. We will continue to preach the truth with love and place all our trust in Jesus who gives us hope. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Implications of Vote Unclear
Although the vote is provoking a great deal of celebration among pro-abortion advocates, it is far from clear precisely what this vote means for the fight to protect preborn life in general.
On the one hand, it is true that the vote has a certain symbolic importance for the abortion movement. The vote is the first plebiscite on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Furthermore, Kansas is generally considered a “red” state, and thus more pro-life than most states. According to one interpretation, the vote is a kind of “bellwether” pointing to things to come. That is, we can anticipate that when the rubber hits the road, voters even in red states will not vote pro-life post-Dobbs, no matter what the Supreme Court says.
However, there are good reasons to be skeptical of this interpretation. Pro-life legal experts are pointing out that the vote in Kansas was swayed by the unclear language of the amendment itself, outright misinformation coming from the pro-abortion side, and an enormous investment of resources by pro-abortion advocates to secure their first post-Dobbs victory.
“I think ultimately it came down to chaos, confusion, and lies ruling the day,” Mallory Carroll, the vice president of communications for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told Catholic News Agency recently. “The pro-abortion movement was very successful at claiming that this vote was going to be a vote to stop all abortion in Kansas and put women’s lives at risk.”
As Alexandra DeSanctis notes over at National Review, there are serious questions about whether Kansas voters really understood what they were voting for. Pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others campaigned against the amendment, investing enormously in Kansas into obtaining their desired vote, with the lie that voting in favor of the amendment was equivalent to voting in favor of a total ban on abortion. “In reality,” DeSanctis notes, “the amendment would’ve taken Kansas back to abortion neutrality, allowing lawmakers to legislate on the issue.”
DeSanctis goes on to offer two extremely important pieces of advice to pro-lifers. Firstly, “Don’t allow Republican politicians to consider the outcome in Kansas evidence that being pro-life is electorally toxic.”
It is hard to understate the importance of this point. We know that more than a few GOP politicians are “mushy” on the issue of abortion. They are willing to vote pro-life, so long as doing so ensures that they win elections and stay in power. However, the minute being pro-life requires serious sacrifice, they begin to waffle. Pragmatic politicians like these will be quick to seize upon the Kansas vote as an excuse to push more “moderate” laws, i.e., laws that allow the killing of unborn children, or to avoid the topic of abortion altogether. However, says DeSanctis, “One bad result on a confusing amendment in a state that’s relatively moderate on abortion isn’t indicative of how Americans feel about abortion policy.” Such politicians must hear loud and clear from us that we will not accept their excuses or waffling. With Roe gone the iron is hot, and now is the time to strike, protecting more human lives by passing more pro-life laws.
And secondly, exhorts DeSanctis, “Remember that the Democratic Party is deeply out of step with Americans, and its own voters, on abortion.” This, too, is a vital point. Predictably, pro-abortion strategists are seizing upon the Kansas vote to suggest that pro-lifers and the Supreme Court are somehow “extreme” on abortion. However, the reality is that by every measure it is the Democratic Party that supports policies that are way, way out of step of the American mainstream.
The Democratic Party never met an abortion it didn’t think totally justified, and even worthy of government funding. The party supports abortion on demand, up to birth. Remember how strenuously the Democrats fought against the partial birth abortion ban? Every poll shows that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to abortions in the second and third trimesters, let alone moments before the baby is born. So don’t let Democrats get away with misleading voters into thinking that they are somehow “moderate” on abortion, when in fact they are extremists.
Get Up, Dust Off, Keep Fighting
I’m not going to sugarcoat things. The loss in Kansas was a big deal. There are real-world consequences that are hard to contemplate. Preborn children will die because of this vote.
At the same time, however, we must not be misled by cynical voices who wish to convince us that the Kansas vote is a bigger deal than it is. Pro-lifers like us know just how big the stakes are in the fight over abortion. We know how many lives hang in the balance. For this reason, it is natural to feel distraught and discouraged in the wake of any loss.
But on the other hand, there are so, so many reasons to be encouraged. Let us not forget the fact that after five decades of strenuous effort and prayer and fasting, the U.S. Supreme Court has just overturned Roe v. Wade! We are currently living in a post-Roe America – something that generations of pro-life advocates prayed and worked for!
The tide is turning. In the grand scheme of things, a loss in a single state is but a temporary setback. No doubt the pro-life movement in Kansas is regrouping right now, figuring out how to put forward a measure that is clearer, and more likely to pass, ensuring that Kansas becomes a state that protects life.
As the Kansas Catholic Conference of Bishops wrote in the statement quoted above, “We trust that God will bring good out of evil. In the end, the truth wins! No matter how deep the darkness is, no matter how long it reigns, no matter how much it grows, it cannot destroy the light.”
Amen! Rather than getting discouraged, now is the time to get back up, dust off, and get back into the fight. Lives depend on it!
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.