Kansas or Bust

A few unusual things happened in Kansas the other day. A lot of people turned out to vote on a weird day that didn’t usually involve a voting. They voted on a proposition worded backwards that could have been set forth clearly but wasn’t. The state that went 15 points for Trump, ruby red they called it on TV, went 18 point in favor of a “no” vote on the proposition. At the end of the day, people in Kansas rejected a change that would allow the banning of abortion.

Anti-abortion folks put on their best face, arguing that it proved that democracy works as people went to the polls, voted, and the people’s will be done. Yay! Except that was spin for the insipid, since it was true of Kansas but not elsewhere, where there was no proposition on a ballet, no single issue resolution to be decided directly by the voters and no way for the voters to express their views on the issue of abortion. So the contention that Kansas proved Alito right, that it was now in the trusted hands of the citizenry, was too facile by half.

Other states were busy banning away, triggering old law and not giving much of a hoot about whether their citizens agreed or not, because they weren’t Kansas. The retort is that the people of a state, let’s call it Texas, can always elect new representatives of the other persuasion if they don’t care for the way their current ones are enacting laws on the issue. And that’s true. It could work that way, but it ignores the fact the this is one issue among many that people care about. For some, it will be the most important issue. For others, it will be a secondary concern. For even others, it will be important, but not more important than an amalgam of other issues for which the politicians who are very wrong about abortion are otherwise very right.

That people vote for politicians who support an abortion ban does not mean the voters support an abortion ban, but that they are constrained to use their one vote to further either their foremost issue or their critical mass of issues. If there was a single issue referendum as was held in ruby red Kansas, we would know with clarity. But since there won’t be, we can only know from polls, which may not be borne out in elections for other reasons.

The retort to this scenario is that if it meant so much to people, they would make it their primary issue and vote out of office politicians who imposed abortion bans with which they disagree. But “meant so much” is an unhelpful metric in a complex world. Inflation, recession, social justice and health care mean “so much,” but if one edges out another given current circumstances, or the combo of issues means taking a loss on another, that doesn’t mean the issue does not “mean so much” but that you still only get one vote and have to spend it as best you can.

And then there are states where the decision was made long ago and there’s no one in office to affirmatively blame.

An extreme example is Wisconsin, a purple state with a Democratic governor that voted for Joe Biden in the last election. When Roe was overturned, there was widespread confusion about whether an 1849 abortion ban had gone back into effect, and as a result, abortion services have been halted.

There is little reason to think that this is what the people of Wisconsin want, but it’s not clear if they can pass a law to change it, because state legislative maps are drawn in a way that gives Republicans an overwhelming advantage. According to a University of Wisconsin Law School analysis, if Democrats and Republicans got the same number of votes, Republicans would win 64.8 percent of State Senate seats, and Democrats around 35.2 percent.

The irony here an inflammatory issue like this, where there is a clear majority of Americans who favor abortion during the first trimester or until viability, and thereafter for the health of the mother, that we can agree upon and accept, even if unhappily or imperfectly, this issue will accomplish two things that appear from the vote in Kansas. First, even to some portion of conservative voters, the issue is important enough to make their primary voting issue. They’re voting blue, kids, on this issue alone.

The other piece is that many Dem voters who have grown complacent and disappointed, or bored, will be re-energized, feel compelled as they did to oust Trump to got to the polls again where they were otherwise unlikely to vote as there was nothing to motivate them to get off their social media. Well, this will. This did. And when they do vote blue because of abortion, their blue vote will follow through to every other issue on their political, economic and social agenda.

If you want to push the argument that Kansas shows that democracy works, that’s great. Let’s hold a referendum and live with the consequences. But we know that’s not going to happen, and that’s the last thing anybody on the anti-abortion side really wants to happen because they’re going to get crushed. Except they’ve now exposed the nation to the possibility, or as people in Kansas like to say, the reality that they’re not only going to get crushed anyway but lose on a laundry list of issues having nothing to do with abortion, having no support from the majority, and worming its way in for no better reason than it tends to be bundled together in the progressive Democratic package.

For some, putting so much at risk is worth it as eliminating abortion as murder is that important. Hope that keeps you warm when your son comes home from college wearing an “AOC For President” button.

12 thoughts on “Kansas or Bust

  1. Rob McMillin

    Isn’t it telling that, even in crimson Kansas, the abortion banners felt obliged to weasel-word their ban? It’s almost as though conception personhood is a better political organizing tool than it is a guidepost for governing.

  2. BCP

    Part of me wants to point out a typo, because I know you generally like to fix them; but the other part is tickled by the idea of an “abortion van,” driving along our flyover states’ rural roads, looking for women in distress to transport.

    1. SHG Post author

      Usually, I just correct the typo and delete the comment, but Beth is away for a few days (leaving me to my own devices) and yours made me smile.

      1. Fubar

        To make brazen what Elpey P. hinted below at 11:44:

        Except that was spin for the insipid, since it was true of Kansas but not elsewhere, where there was no proposition on a ballet, no single issue resolution to be decided directly by the voters and no way for the voters to express their views on the issue of abortion.

        Kansas’ grand pas de deux, the entrée
        That some hope happens every day.
        But the chances are great
        It won’t be on the slate
        Elsewhere often, at least not that way!

        I’ll show myself out quietly.

  3. Dan

    The issues you raise are true of literally any question in a democratic republic. Why is abortion special?

  4. Elpey P.

    “spin for the insipid…too facile by half….”

    Sure, but why wear a tuxedo to a WWF cage match?

  5. B. McLeod

    Followed this one somewhat over the weeks of social media exchanges leading up to the voting. Demographically, the population of Kansas is around 27% Catholic. About 44% of the voters are registered as Republicans. The Kansas diocese and Oklahoma diocese made some conspicuous investments in the campaign, and some of the posts by their opponents reflected an undercurrent of religious bigotry. However, the biggest problem faced by proponents of the amendment was they did not wait for forecast harms to fully materialize and consequently could not prove their case. The 2019 court decision at the root of the controversy only struck down the specific law that was in litigation. The strict scrutiny test set out by the court will probably result in additional statutes being struck down, but it hasn’t happened yet. Based on the Kansas court’s prior behavior in a series of school funding cases, it is also possible the court will impose a mandate to publicly fund abortions, but again, it hasn’t happened yet.

    All the major media outlets reported that based on current law, Kansas already had substantial restrictions on abortions and on public funding for abortions. Most of the social media traffic opposing the amendment also put this forward as a basis for rejecting the amendment, and suggested that it showed the purpose of the amendment was to allow a total ban with no exceptions. The language of the amendment would facially have allowed for such a ban (albeit with some federal preemption issues). Based on issue polling (from 2016, I think) both sides knew that 96% of Kansas voters oppose a total ban with no exception to preserve the life of the mother.

    What happened in the voting was a combination of the amendment being premature, because proponents could not prove the harms they associated with the 2019 ruling, and the amendment being inartfully drafted so as to allow it to be tarred as an attempted total ban with no exceptions. Years will tell what really follows from the 2019 ruling, and if events unfold as proponents of the 2022 amendment predicted, it will not be surprising if a similar amendment resurfaces.

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