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Stop the Ban sign in Kansas

Erin Woods for the Vote No on the Constitutional Amendment on Abortion canvasses a neighborhood on August 1, 2022 in Lenexa, Kansas. On August 2, voters will vote on whether or not to remove protection for abortion from the state constitution. (Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

Anti-Choice Forces Push Disinformation as Kansas Votes on Abortion Rights

"The truth is that voting yes opens the door to a total ban on abortion," said one reproductive rights advocate.

Julia Conley

After Kansas residents across the state received a misleading, anonymous message in recent days regarding an abortion rights referendum, pro-choice advocates doubled down on their calls for people to vote "no" Tuesday on a proposed constitutional amendment that would clear the way for an abortion ban in the state.

An unknown group sent text messages warning voters, "Women in Kansas are losing their choice on reproductive rights."

"Voting YES on the amendment will give women a choice," the text added. "Vote YES to protect women's health."

Voting "yes" on the so-called "Value Them Both" amendment, pushed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, would actually make it easier for lawmakers to eliminate the right to choose abortion care.

As Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern said Thursday, the misleading text and the failure of the senders to disclose their identity are "perfectly legal" according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a coalition of reproductive rights advocates who have been canvassing ahead of the vote, accused anti-choice campaigners of using "desperate and deceitful tactics" to confuse voters.

"The truth is that voting yes opens the door to a total ban on abortion," said Ashley All, a spokesperson for the group. "A NO vote maintains current regulations on abortion. A NO vote protects our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion in Kansas. A NO vote keeps the constitution unchanged. A NO vote prevents government control over private medical decisions."

The text message campaign is "as dirty as you can get," said Davis Hammet, president of pro-democracy group Loud Light. "The anti-abortion coalition is sending out a last-minute mass text to Kansas pro-choice voters blatantly lying about the abortion amendment so they vote the wrong way."

The referendum is appearing on election ballots on Tuesday as the result of a push by Republican lawmakers, who want a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2019 state Supreme Court ruling which found that the state constitution protects the right to abortion care.

If the referendum passes, the amendment would read, in part, "Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion," and would allow lawmakers to enact a total ban on abortion, which is already restricted in the state.

According to Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June has mobilized pro-abortion rights advocates across the state to knock on doors urging their neighbors to reject the amendment. About 500 volunteers have canvassed for the group each week since the ruling, hoping to energize people for the primary election, which typically sees low turnout in Kansas.

"Passing an amendment like this on the basis of what amounts to a small majority of 20% of the vote is not a good way to deal with this, as a matter of democratic legitimacy," Richard Levy, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Kansas, told The New Republic last week of the decision by supporters to place the referendum on the primary ballot rather than waiting until the general election in November.

The Kansas Reflector reported in July that a regional director for the Value Them Both campaign, which is pushing Kansans to vote in favor of the amendment, told a gathering a Republicans that the group has already prepared to help pass legislation to criminalize all abortion from the moment of fertilization, with no exceptions, and to classify abortion as a felony charge.

Mary Owens, communications director for the pro-forced birth group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told Politico that the Kansas vote is likely "the first of many battles that we're going to be seeing across many states" following the overturning of Roe.

Despite abortion restrictions in Kansas including a requirement that patients receive an ultrasound and undergo a 24-hour waiting period before receiving care, the state has become something of a safe haven in recent months as nearby states including Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas have banned abortion care.

If the state legislature is permitted to amend the constitution in order to ban abortion, Arkansas residents seeking care could be forced to travel to Colorado or farther.

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