How abortion rights advocates preserved access in Kansas
(CNN) -- In the leadup to Kansas' monumental vote on abortion rights, volunteers and community organizers knocked on more than 60,000 doors, and made more than 600,000 phone calls.
The goal, according to Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the coalition opposing the amendment: to engage voters in the Sunflower State across the political spectrum, including rural voters, registered Republican voters who turn out in primaries and the large swath of unaffiliated voters who typically sit out primaries.
It worked. CNN projected Tuesday night that voters had decided to reject a proposed amendment and maintain the right to an abortion in their state's constitution.
By Wednesday morning, the numbers were clear: Even as votes were still being counted, nearly 59% of Kansans voted "no" on the amendment -- keeping the status quo in the state, where abortion is currently legal up to 22 weeks. And the turnout was tremendous, with more than 900,000 votes counted on the amendment as of Wednesday afternoon. (By comparison, less than 750,000 votes had been counted for the gubernatorial race.)
"Kansans turned out in historic numbers for a primary election to reject this change to our state constitution. They did this because we found common ground among diverse voting blocks and mobilized people across the political spectrum to vote no," Rachel Sweet, KCF's campaign manager, said during a media call on Wednesday.
Nearly all of Kansas' 105 counties had some local organization or local leader coordinating outreach, according to Ashley All, the communications director for KCF. The coalition had more than $6.5 million to fund its campaign opposing the amendment.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, called the margin a "shock."
"Nobody in Kansas, from political strategists to pundits to analysts, predicted that kind of margin," he told CNN.
The result was surprising for a few reasons, he said: Polling ahead of Tuesday showed the "yes" votes ahead, primaries are traditionally low turnout, and Kansas almost always elects Republicans in statewide contests.
Christopher Emily, 27, was among those voted against the amendment.
"I just think health care is a fundamental right," he told CNN. "It's something that needs to happen if the situation calls for it."
How the abortion question ended up on the ballot
The amendment that appeared on Tuesday's ballot was years in the making.
In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the right to an abortion was protected under the state constitution's Bill of Rights.
In response, the constitutional amendment was drafted by the Value Them Both coalition, a group of organizations that included the Kansas Family Voice and Kansans for Life, which has been "working to push back and correct what our court has done," Brittany Jones, the policy director of Kansas Family Voice, told CNN.
A Senate resolution that sought to place the amendment on the ballot was first introduced in the state legislature in 2020, but it didn't receive enough votes for final passage.
The resolution was reintroduced last year and was approved by a necessary two-thirds majority of the GOP-controlled legislature in February 2021.
The issue then was placed on this year's primary ballot, rather than the general election, which abortion rights advocates argued was done intentionally by state Republicans to limit turnout.
But the stakes were raised when, in June, the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the federal right to an abortion, in a case that involved a restrictive Mississippi abortion law. Advocates in Kansas said that the state constitution was the only thing protecting abortion access with Roe overturned. After the US Supreme Court's decision, KCF said they saw an increase in volunteer energy and fundraising.
The Value Them Both coalition, which proposed the amendment, blamed Tuesday's outcome on an "onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations that spent millions of out-of-state dollars to spread lies" about the constitutional amendment.
"Sadly, the mainstream media propelled the left's false narrative, contributing to the confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment," the Value Them Both coalition said in a statement.
Still, voters explained to CNN why they voted for the amendment -- thus backing Value Them Both's cause.
"I don't think it's confusing at all. It gives the legislature the ability to pass laws about abortion. It's pretty straight cut to me," Drew Sanlin, an early voter who backed the amendment, told CNN.
"It's really hard, because I know there are women who feel differently, and it's hard to be on the other side of them," said Susan Peterson, 60, who voted "yes" on the amendment.
She told CNN that it's "important to at least set some limits" on abortion, adding that, "If it's going to happen, let's do it within reason."
What happens next
For now, abortion is currently legal up to 22 weeks in Kansas, and the state is likely to continue being a haven for women seeking the procedure from nearby states that have rolled back abortion rights.
The Value Them Both coalition called Tuesday's outcome a "temporary setback" and said their "dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over."
"As our state becomes a abortion destination, it will be even more important for Kansans to support our pregnancy resource centers, post-abortive ministries, and other organizations that provide supportive care to women facing unexpected pregnancies," the coalition said in a statement. "We will be back."
Despite celebrating the win Tuesday, KCF said Wednesday that the fight to protect abortion access in the state continues.
Ashley All, the communications director for KCF, said the "biggest concern" she has now is over Republicans' two-thirds majority in the legislature that could chose to pass another amendment related to abortion onto the ballot.
She stressed that it will be important to protect Kansas' Supreme Court justices who are up for retention votes this year, arguing that several anti-abortion groups will try to target the court as a result of Tuesday's vote.
All added that she has "no doubt that there will be additional bills that will be put forward in the spring to limit access in other ways," adding that lawmakers "have not been deterred in the past, and I don't think that will change."
"I think that we will still have to have conversations with voters about this issue. We will continue to have to raise the alarm when bad bills are put forward," she said.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.