The US state of Kansas – which is largely represented by Republicans in Congress but which has a Democratic Governor – has decided in a referendum to protect abortion access, in what could be seen as a rebuff of the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs. Although several states have moved to restrict abortion access since Roe vs. Wade was overruled, Kansas – which currently allows pregnancies to be terminated up to 22 weeks with other restrictions – is one of the states where abortion access is guaranteed constitutionally, and therefore, the state constitution needed amending if any change was to take place.
By contrast, California and Vermont are to hold referendums this year to enhance abortion access through their state constitutions. In the end, voters in Kansas said they did not wish to amend the state constitution. Projections suggest Kansans voted by more than 60 per cent to guarantee abortion access. Voter turnout was also higher than expected. In a sign of the ongoing culture wars within the country, one Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary were defaced. Catholic US President Joe Biden welcomed the result, saying: “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions.”
Projections suggest greater opposition in rural areas and small towns, pointing to ongoing intra-state as well as inter-state divides. Even before the Supreme Court ruling, the Pew Research Center found deep divisions on Catholic attitudes towards abortion. After the ruling, Pew found that 51 per cent of US Catholics disapproved, with 34 per cent strongly so. Against this, Pew found that 48 per cent of Catholics approved, although just 28 per cent did so strongly. Pew also discovered that just 39 per cent of US Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in some or all cases (9 per cent in all cases), against 60 per cent who feel abortion should be legal (23 per cent saying in all cases).
Even in states where abortion bans are in place, or set to be so, opinions are divided. In states where abortions are newly prohibited with limited exceptions or newly restricted, 52 per cent of people disapprove of the Supreme Court’s ruling (with 36 per cent and 38 per cent disagreeing strongly, respectively). This is against 46 per cent who approve in states with new prohibitions and 47 per cent who approve in states with new restrictions. Meanwhile, in states where abortion is allowed but the future is uncertain, 53 per cent of people disapproved of the judgement, while 45 per cent backed the Supreme Court.
Democrats have been especially energised by the Supreme Court decision, which could have implications for November’s midterms. The White House has stressed it has little power to singlehandedly preserve abortion access, pointing to the midterms as an opportunity to protect access. Data suggests abortion is becoming a major issue, with 66 per cent of voters saying it is now either extremely or very important. According to Gallup, while 37 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaners say abortion is extremely important, this rises to 48 per cent for Democrats and Democrat-leaners.
Although the Vatican has yet to speak on the Kansas vote, Pope Francis recently said Communion for Catholic office-holders who support abortion access was an issue of conscience. The Pope has also accused conservative bishops of politicising office-holders who oppose abortion personally but support it for others. While publicly condemning abortion, Pope Francis has recently instructed new archbishops to welcome everyone into the Church. The Pontiff has however questioned President Biden’s coherence on the subject given the President’s Catholic faith.
The Kansas vote could be indicative of attitudes across the country post-Dobbs. Whatever else, the referendum is a major blow to those who sought to restrict abortion, highlighting again the ongoing cultural divides within the United States.
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