Oct 18 (Reuters) – An abortion rights vote in Kentucky on Nov. 8 will determine if the conservative state becomes Kansas 2.0.
Kentucky voters are being asked to amend the state’s constitution to say residents do not have a right to abortions, three months after voters in Kansas soundly rejected a similar ballot question.
The upcoming vote is a test of public support for Kentucky’s strict abortion laws, which took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s federal abortion protections in June. A defeat of the proposed amendment could pave the way for the state’s highest court to invalidate a ban on all abortions except in rare medical emergencies.
Five states have put abortion-related measures on their November midterm election ballots, allowing voters to direct the future of abortion access in their states. Kentucky is the only one of those states to have voters weigh in on abortion rights while enforcing a near-total ban.
The campaign against the ballot measure in Kentucky, a deeply conservative state with a Republican supermajority in its statehouse, has drawn millions of dollars and some of the same personnel who helped defeat the Kansas effort.
A coalition of state and national abortion rights groups called Protect Kentucky Access aims to win support from conservatives who disagree with the overturn of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and the state’s abortion ban.
“There’s a decent chance that we’ll see some relatively conservative Republican voters, even people that you’d call generally anti-abortion…looking like they’re relatively pro-choice in this vote because of the current circumstances,” said Steve Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky.
There is no public opinion polling on the ballot question. Yes for Life, a coalition of state religious groups campaigning in support of the amendment, also is seeking to galvanize conservative, anti-abortion voters to avoid a repeat of the Kansas outcome.
“We’re working very hard night and day to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Addia Wuchner, the group’s campaign director.
KANSAS ABORTION BALLOT CONNECTIONS
The coalition opposing the Kentucky measure has raised $2.7 million this year, according to an Oct. 12 financial report, surpassing the $510,000 raised this year by Yes for Life in support of the amendment.
Leticia Martinez, a consultant who has advised both opposition campaigns, said while the Kansas win informed the Kentucky efforts, the current strategy was tailored to Kentucky voters specifically.
There are roughly equal numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats in Kentucky. In Kansas, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 350,000.
One message that swayed moderates in Kansas – that rejecting the amendment would prevent government interference with personal medical decisions – also seems to resonate with Kentucky voters, Martinez said.
“That is a message that really crosses party lines,” she said.
The campaign is emphasizing the impact abortion bans can have on women with pregnancy complications, noting their lives could be at stake if doctors fear repercussions for providing abortion care. The campaign’s first television advertisement featured a woman discussing how she had to terminate a wanted pregnancy to save her own life.
“It’s an impossible decision,” the woman says in the ad, which is airing in Kentucky metropolitan areas. “I can’t imagine a politician making it for me.”
Denise Finley, a 64-year-old retired teacher in Lexington, said she would vote “no” on the amendment.
She lost a baby to a fatal medical condition, she said. Though she had not known about the condition before giving birth, she felt any decision related to her child should not involve the government.
“This is personal,” said Finley, a registered Republican who has often voted for Democrats. “Unless you’re in that situation, you don’t know how you really will feel.”
Kentucky’s Supreme Court has allowed two restrictive abortion laws to take effect: a ban on abortions after six weeks and a near-total ban triggered by the overturn of Roe.
A hearing on challenges to those bans is set for Nov. 15, the week after the election. The fate of abortion services in the state hangs in the balance.
The Kentucky anti-abortion coalition is hosting rallies in rural areas and leaning on church communities, said Wuchner, the Yes For Life campaign director who also serves as executive director of Kentucky Right to Life.
Despite being outspent in Kentucky and having far less than the nearly $5 million raised by Kansas’ anti-abortion campaign, Wuchner said her team is counting on turnout from “family-values, pro-life voters” to achieve victory.
“This amendment will shore up the constitution and allow the lawmakers to make the laws,” she said. (Reporting by Gabriella Borter Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Josie Kao)