Anxious about Kansas vote, Missouri residents campaign to defeat abortion amendment
The vote on the abortion amendment will determine if the procedure remains protected by the Kansas Constitution. Missouri residents in Kansas City fret that if the amendment passes, they will lose access to a state that has been an abortion refuge for many.
All eyes in the country will be on Kansas come Aug. 2, when the state becomes the first in the country to vote on the right to an abortion following the Supreme Court’s reversal last month of Roe v Wade — the landmark 1973 decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.
Many of those anxiously awaiting the results live just a stone’s throw away from the Kansas state line, in Missouri, where nearly all abortions were banned immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Missouri’s ban contains no exceptions for rape or incest.
“I think Missourians are waiting like the rest of the country with bated breath to see what happens in Kansas,” said Emily Wales, the recently named president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates clinics in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. “As rights are stripped from people around the country, Kansas just has an incredible opportunity to say, ‘Not here.’”
For Missouri residents living in the Kansas City area, the closest places still performing abortions are clinics operated by Planned Parenthood and Whole Women’s Health in Overland Park, Kansas.
But if the “Value Them Both” amendment to the Kansas Constitution passes, the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature will get to decide whether abortion remains legal in Kansas. And most observers say the Legislature is almost certain to follow its Missouri counterpart and ban the procedure.
“I'm just afraid of what Kansans are going to do based on what Missouri has already, like, led the path for,” says Kansas City, Missouri, resident Chelsea Anglemyer. “I am just fearful that they're going to vote in the way that Missouri has.”
That fear has impelled area residents on the Missouri side of the state line to get involved in the campaign against the amendment. Some are phone banking. Others are canvassing Kansas neighborhoods. Some local businesses are holding fundraisers and selling yard signs. And other individuals, like Anglemyer, are taking to social media to raise awareness about the critical vote.
“I am putting out there my perspective in hopes that someone will see it and I will influence just one person, because that one person might make a huge difference,” Anglemyer says.
Spencer Thut, for one, has been talking to prospective voters and encouraging them to get involved in the reproductive rights movement.
Thut, a member of the Kansas City chapter of Socialist Alternative, a national group that promotes socialism, said the organization showed up at abortion rallies after Roe was overturned to engage with people about the abortion vote in Kansas.
“We just talk to working class people where they are on the streets, and we try to … get them involved in this immediate action, of how they can vote against this regressive thing, but then connect that to the need to go beyond just voting,” Thut says.
While Thut, who lives within spitting distance of Kansas, obviously can’t vote in the upcoming Kansas election, Thut knows the stakes are high.
“I live right on State Line (Road). To me, that's just a street that I crossed to go to high school,” Thut says. “It's kind of an imaginary border to me. The fact is that we all need access to healthcare, that women, pregnant people, need access to abortion, and then they need it to be safe. They need it to be legal.”
At the League of Women Voters Kansas City, president Anne Calvert says she’s seen increased interest in voting since Roe was overturned.
“I think what's happening is an awareness because of something that's happening in a neighboring state, that we need to be more involved in our own state and in our own local politics,” Calvert says.
What’s at stake for Missouri
Even before Missouri all but banned abortion, access to the procedure was already severely limited in the state. For the last several years, the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis has been the only remaining one in the state performing abortions.
That meant Missourians living in Kansas City or elsewhere often had to make lengthy trips to receive abortion care. In 2020, about 3,200 Missourians traveled to Kansas for an abortion, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“Missourians are going to find — like people from Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas or all these other states that are losing access to care — that there is no simple answer,” Wales says. “It's not just, can you get to a location? It's can you get an appointment? Can you find childcare? Can you get time off of work?”
While abortion at the moment is legal in Kansas, it’s still highly regulated, requiring waiting periods, parental consent and an ultrasound viewing, among many other restrictions.
Those restrictions make it more complicated for out-of-state patients to seek an abortion, or even get an appointment in the first place, Wales says. And if the Kansas amendment passes and Kansas lawmakers ban the procedure, the closest locations for Missourians seeking an abortion will be in eastern Illinois, Iowa and Colorado.
“When we're talking to Texans who call to see if we have appointment availability, sometimes the answer is no, and you've got to get to New Mexico or Colorado or Illinois, and that's not always an option for them," Wales says. "They might be able to figure out a 10-hour drive, but they can't go farther. I think in this moment, when abortion care is so limited in our part of the country, having access close to home is really, really essential.”
The campaign to elect Spencer Toder, a Missouri Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, has been studying the impact of abortion restrictions on Missouri residents.
“What we learned is that Missourians in general have a maximum time currently of about 10.59 hours to get to abortion care,” Toder says. “They have a minimum time of about 2.628 hours of to get to abortion care. And the average amount of time is 6.65 hours to get to abortion care.”
That’s why Toder emphasizes how crucial the upcoming elections are.
“It's incredibly important that we continue to let people know that we do have a path forward, but we have to win these elections,” Toder says. “We have to get our neighbors out to vote. We have to focus on things that actually make change because we still have the power.”
Anglemyer agrees, saying she fears what will happen if abortion access in Kansas is stripped away.
“They can have that option to cross state lines — that is so easily accessible,” she says. “And if that is taken away from us, that is a huge letdown to this community and a huge letdown to women in Missouri.”