Kansans Face First Post-Roe Ballot Test on Abortion in Upcoming Vote on ‘Value Them Both’ Amendment

On Aug. 2, the primary ballot question considers whether the state’s constituents can make decisions about limiting abortion.

College students Ben Kennedy (l) and Alyssa Winters wait to speak July 8 with prospective voters in Olathe, Kansan, about the Value Them Both amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would allow legislators to restrict abortion.
College students Ben Kennedy (l) and Alyssa Winters wait to speak July 8 with prospective voters in Olathe, Kansan, about the Value Them Both amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would allow legislators to restrict abortion. (photo: John Hanna / Associated Press)

Kansas will be the first state to vote on the abortion issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, returning the power to regulate abortion to the states. 

The question put to Kansans with the vote on the Value Them Both Amendment in their Aug. 2 primary election is whether the state can place restrictions on abortion after the state Supreme Court found a right to abortion in the state’s bill of rights.

In that 2019 ruling, the court rejected the state’s attempt to ban dismemberment abortion and said that the state would face a “higher burden” in attempts to regulate abortion and that government regulation of abortion would be “presumed unconstitutional” unless the state could establish a compelling interest and show how a regulation might be narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

Danielle Underwood, the director of communications for Kansans for Life, told the Register that the Value Them Both Amendment is a much needed “correction” of “judicial overreach” in the 2019 ruling, which “removed the legal standing of all of our existing pro-life laws, making them immediately vulnerable to overturn because of that judicial decision.” 

One recent example of this was a judge’s December 2021 decision, which cited the ruling and dispensed with 2011 state regulations requiring that abortion facilities meet certain health and safety standards and be subject to annual inspections. 

Underwood said the amendment would “return to the people of Kansas our ability to place commonsense limits on the abortion industry.” The amendment says that “to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”

 

Catholic Pro-Life Efforts

The amendment was first proposed in 2020 but failed to receive the required two-thirds majority vote in the Kansas House. Underwood said that some of the legislators who stood against the amendment “felt the displeasure of their constituents,” and in 2021 the Kansas Legislature got the amendment on the ballot.

Part of that push included efforts from students at Benedictine College in Atchison, where recent graduate Vincent Schiffiano told the Register that he and fellow students delivered a stack of 400 petitions to put the amendment on the ballot to the home of state Sen. Dennis Pyle after hearing the initiative “was one vote short.” The amendment subsequently passed with Pyle’s support. 

Debra Niesen, consultant for pro-life ministries for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, told the Register that she believes the majority of Kansans support “commonsense limits and restrictions” on abortion that have passed in Kansas over the past 20 years. 

“We know the vast majority of people do not want taxpayer-funded abortion or do not support extreme late-term abortions,” she said. “We know that people believe in parental notifications. We know that Kansans want informed consent so that women can be provided all the information about the risks of abortion and the development of their child before they make their decision.” 

She also pointed out, in relation to the safety regulations that were removed in December, that so “many of our existing laws were designed and passed to protect women inside of abortion facilities,” and “if people truly value women, then they would want to support and vote ‘Yes’ for Value Them Both.”

One of the few polls on the issue, conducted July 17-18 by co/efficient and released this week by FiveThirtyEight, found that public opinion on the amendment appears to be close, with 47% of likely primary voters in favor and 43% opposed. While 43% of the 1,557 Kansans surveyed wanted “no restrictions” on abortion, 47% favored some kind of abortion restriction. Additionally, 54% were against taxpayer-funded abortion, while 33% were in favor, and 13% were unsure. 

Niesen said that the archdiocese “not only has the right, but we feel we have the obligation, to advocate for this amendment because this is a human-rights issue.” She said her office’s role has had two parts: “asking all Catholics to pray for not only the successful passage of Value Them Both,” but also “working very hard to educate Catholics and Kansans in general about what the Value Them Both Amendment is, why we need it, what it does, and what it does not do.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City recently defended the archdiocese’s efforts in pushing for the amendment, writing in response to an op-ed by Kansas Rabbi Mark Levin, who argued that the amendment was an attempt to enshrine Catholic doctrine into Kansas law. 

“From a Catholic perspective, abortion is not primarily a religious issue but a fundamental human-rights issue,” Archbishop Naumann wrote. “Our faith helps us understand the dignity of every human life created in the divine image as taught in the Hebrew scriptures, but reason alone is sufficient to know that it is wrong to destroy an innocent human life.” 

He added, “Value Them Both is not a Catholic issue. Preserving current laws and reclaiming the authority of the people of Kansas to determine public policy on such an important societal issue is something every Kansan should be eager to support.”

Underwood said that the push to pass the amendment has been “an amazing collaboration among all different kinds of Kansans, all age groups and different faith backgrounds.” The Value Them Both coalition includes the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Kansas District, and Focus on the Family.

 

The Impact of Dobbs

Niesen said that Roe being overturned was celebrated in Kansas, but it also “meant something a little different for us” because of “what our [state] Supreme Court ruling had done, usurping the Kansans’ vote to have a say in our abortion policy.” 

Underwood said that Roe being overturned “energized both sides of the amendment battle,” and one unfortunate part of that is the “dramatic increase in the amount of aggressive behavior toward supporters of the Value Them Both Amendment, supporters of the pro-life movement, and also members and leaders of Christian faith traditions.” She referenced the recent vandalization at Ascension Catholic School in Overland Park with the words “my body, my choice,” along with profanity and a statue of Mary being defaced with red paint. She said there have been “numerous daily reports” of “signs being stolen or vandalized, broken, torn apart, and terrible things written on them and then left in different places.” 

She said another thing that has increased since the Dobbs decision is the amount of misinformation, including advertisements “saying that the Value Them Both Amendment is a ban on abortion, which it is not.” 

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the coalition campaigning against the amendment, says that it “will pave the way for a total ban on abortion in Kansas” and “hand our personal healthcare decisions over to politicians in Topeka.” The partner organizations for the group include Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes and the ACLU of Kansas.

Schiffiano said that in his door-knocking in support of Value Them Both with fellow Benedictine students, they have combatted the idea that the amendment would ban abortion. 

“It doesn’t actually touch the issue of abortion substantively at all. All it does is it gives the people the right through their representatives to make decisions on abortion,” he said. “The question that I always pose to people is: ‘Who do you want making decisions on this issue? Do you want it to be your elected representatives that you can call, that you can hold accountable through your vote, or do you want it to be unelected judges?’”

Underwood said her group has been trying to reach “people who do consider themselves to be either pro-life with reservations or pro-choice with reservations so that we can help people understand that if they believe in any limits on the abortion industry that they need to vote ‘Yes’ on the Value Them Both Amendment, in order for us to be able to keep those restrictions in place.”

 

Outside Money 

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom has raised $6.54 million in contributions, while the Value Them Both Coalition has raised $4.69 million. The Kansas Reflector noted that while “Kansans for Life and the Catholic dioceses of Wichita, Salina and Kansas City, Kansas, provided much of the $4.69 million” in contributions for the amendment, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom’s “most significant donations included $1.38 million from Sixteen Thirty Fund,” which Politico has referred to in the past as a leftist “dark money” group, as its donors are unknown. Other significant donors to the anti-amendment group included Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL.

Underwood said the Value Them Both Coalition has “mounted the largest grassroots mobilization effort in Kansas history to try to fight back against these outside radical pro-abortion activist groups that are trying to force this on the heartland of America.” 

 

An Abortion Destination

Another concern for proponents of the Value Them Both Amendment is the rise of abortion numbers in Kansas, as the nearby states of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas have limited abortion. Underwood said that before 2019, “we had seen abortion numbers dropping for the previous about 15 years, and we had reduced the number of abortions in our state by 46%”; whereas since the 2019 ruling, “we’ve had a 13% increase in the overall number of abortions, 17% increase in dismemberment abortions, and a 16% increase in the number of women coming from out of state” for abortions. 

Last year, the state saw its largest annual jump in abortion numbers since 1995, a 9.1% increase due to women traveling there for the procedure. “We do not want Kansas to be an abortion destination,” Schiffiano said. “As states around us are able to restrict abortion further after the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas will have the most liberal abortion laws in the region.”

Underwood pointed to The Kansas City Star’s estimate from the Guttmacher Institute that in light of Roe being overturned, there will be an 1,000% increase in the number of abortions in the state. “That’s a horrifying prospect for our state,” she said, “a state that is, by and large, very conservative and wants to be able to enact and keep limits in place that protect both women and babies.”

 

All Eyes on Kansas

Schiffiano said Value Them Both could serve as “a bellwether for the national debate” over the abortion issue since it is “the first ballot test of the post-Roe era” and will reveal, in part, “what Americans truly think about abortion.” 

A record number of five states have abortion-related measures on their ballots in the November midterm elections. Kentucky is considering a measure that would add to the state’s constitution wording “to protect human life; nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Montana is voting on a measure stating that “a born-alive infant, including an infant born in the course of an abortion, must be treated as a legal person under the laws of the state, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.” 

In contrast, Vermont and California will be voting on measures to enshrine a right to abortion in their state constitutions. Michigan is also likely to have a similar ballot measure, although that has not yet been formally confirmed.

Niesen said that pro-lifers know that “all eyes are on Kansas” in this first post-Roe vote, and hope “when we’re successful with passing the Value Them Both Amendment that other states in similar positions can also be successful in upholding their life protections.”

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