In our first glimpse at a post-Dobbs political landscape, the reverberations are still flowing from the “thunderclap” of deep-red Kansas voting by a “staggering” margin to protect women’s access to abortion as “every woman’s choice, and not the government’s.” The explosive backfire on a key front of the right’s culture wars came in a GOP-majority state long pivotal in the abortion fight—see the Summer of Mercy—and one so conservative it once banned Charlotte’s Web for “blasphemous” talking animals; its school libraries continue to ban books—The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bluest Eye, The Hate U Give that looks at racist police, a Cats vs. Robots comicbook that mentions the word “nonbinary”—at a ferocious rate. Still, abruptly questioning a longtime, anti-choice narrative in their statehouse, Kansans came out in droves to tell those in power, “Get your hands off our bodies.” Roe, said one, “woke up a giant.”
Thank Alito. After a SCOTUS decision that “rolled a political grenade into every statehouse across the nation,” residents of a heartland state Trump won by 15 points showed up in the biggest turnout for a midterm election, ever. Right-wingers planned the vote during an August primary with typically very low, mostly Republican turnout; instead, more than 900,000 Kansans—double the number expected, four times the last primary, and almost what a presidential election draws—turned out for a landslide of 58.8% to 41.2% result, though some said it was 65-34. Amidst the stunning numbers, 70% of post-Dobbs, newly registered Kansas voters were women. Twitter: “Lmao, GOP,” “Thing I never thought I would say: Thank God for Kansas,” and in nods to the Wizard of Oz, “Dorothy can go home now” and “We’re not in Kansas anymore. Abortion rights: Yes, we are.”
The defeat of the so-called “Value Them Both” (really?) amendment to a state constitution that now allows abortion up to 22 weeks (with restrictions after that) came despite multiple dirty tricks by the right, from lies and outright “ratfuckery” to Orwellian linguistic distortions. Ads evidently relying on MAGA’s famed fondness for the “poorly educated” claimed a “yes” vote—to amend the constitution and restrict abortion access—would “give women a choice” and “protect women’s health,” but voters evidently quickly figured out that was a crock, thus aligning with the estimated 8 in 10 Americans who support the legal right to abortion and a majority who deem it a “very important” issue. Bitter proof of how out of touch is the extremist, fundamentalist Christian SCOTUS: They blithely thought it would be a sure-fire strategy to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” Be careful what you wish for.
Political analysts are now sifting through that happy, massive miscalculation to consider an unexpected new political reality for abortion. Even as reproductive freedoms face threats across the country, research shows 4 of 5 states would back abortion rights on their own, and protecting those rights is “galvanizing voters like never before.” Kansas’ landslide suggests “every hot take to which we’ve been treated over the years”—abortion is a toxic issue, women don’t vote on it, the fall of Roe would destroy us—was wrong: “When abortion triumphs by double digits in ruby red Kansas—in an election rigged in multiple ways to defeat it—the post-Dobbs conventional political wisdom needs to be set on fire.” Or as filmmaker Michael Moore wrote, “We are not in Kansas anymore, and neither is Kansas.”
The lesson from the flex of voters’ power in Kansas: It’s possible to protect abortion rights at the ballot box, and “Democrats avoid the issue of Dobbs, reproductive freedom (and) women’s rights at their own political peril.” Results from rural or Republican counties in a historically anti-choice state—”Lord, there were swing voters!”—show the issue crosses parties and life styles, and messaging must reflect that. Kansas ads didn’t mention “reproductive justice,” and many didn’t even mention abortion; they cited the right to make private medical decisions without government mandates or interference. A yawning post-Dobbs gender gap, emerging horror stories—10-year-old rape victims, doctors facing prison, women bleeding out—and Alito’s arrogant, medieval, dismissal of “the lived experience of pregnant people”—his “invisible women“—drove Kansans to the polls to declare, “It’s not over.”
And there was much rejoicing. Twitter was ablaze: #FreeState, #ThankYouKansas, #TrustWomen, #RoeRoeRoeYourVote. Messages were succinct: “There is hope.” Pointed: “Good news for the 300k religious extremists who voted YES. Tomorrow you can still choose NOT to have an abortion yourself. You just can’t tell everyone in Kansas what they can do.” Gloating: “Amy Coney Barrett, what does it feel like to have the entire state of Kansas tell you to fuck off?” Menacing: “Be thankful we only want equality, and not payback.” Gleeful: “Hell hath no fury like 167 million pissed-off women heading to the polls.” Moving: “My state just showed up and boldly told me they are going to take care of me.” Joyful: “Holy shit, Kansas!” To some, the victory was especially sweet coming in the home state of the Koch family; others praised Jon Stewart and Kansas for reminding us “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.” Finally, Norma Hamilton, a 90-year-old Republican Kansan who voted to save abortion access, summoned the pivotal heart of the matter: “I like the women’s rights.”
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