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The first post-Roe vote on abortion rights will be held in Kansas on Aug. 2

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The first post-Roe vote on abortion rights will happen in Kansas. The state Constitution there currently protects the right to abortion. Next month, voters will decide whether they want that to change. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: It's a warm summer morning in Lawrence, Kan., and political volunteers are lining up for assignments.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Can I take this sign to my car now?

SHARON BRETT: Absolutely. And I'll stick this right here for you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK. Perfect. I'll be right back then.

BRETT: Hi.

FRANK BARTELL: I'm Frank Bartell.

MORRIS: Sharon Brett is here volunteering for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.

BRETT: People are really energized right now, and they're mad. They're angry, and they want to fight.

MORRIS: The fight here is over the so-called Value Them Both Amendment, which would end state constitutional protection for abortion.

BRETT: That's right. Kansas is a place where, right now, the right to an abortion is protected by our state Constitution. The same can't be said in a number of other states that surround us.

MORRIS: When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, neighboring states Missouri and Oklahoma immediately banned abortion. That sparked new urgency here in Kansas to preserve a state constitutional right to abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL RINGING)

GINA SPADE: Oh, it's not.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi.

SPADE: Oh, hello.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: How you doing?

SPADE: Good. How are you?

MORRIS: Gina Spade and her daughter are walking a neighborhood in Lawrence, campaigning against the proposed amendment that would end protection for abortion rights.

SPADE: With that backstop of Roe, this amendment wouldn't have been as important as it is. And now this is the only thing to keep us from being Missouri or Oklahoma.

MORRIS: But University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller says abortion rights proponents are playing catch-up.

PATRICK MILLER: Not trying to be mean, but I think the public campaign of abortion rights supporters was pathetic to nonexistent until around the time that the leak happened at the Supreme Court.

MORRIS: The leak disclosing the decision overturning Roe not three months ago. Abortion opponents, on the other hand, have been gearing up for this fight for years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSAN HUMPHRIES: Thank you so much for joining us today. We are...

MORRIS: The Value Them Both Coalition, a group supporting the amendment overturning the constitutional right to abortion, convened a roundtable recently where State Representative Susan Humphries countered what she calls falsehoods promoted by opponents of the amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUMPHRIES: I'm trying to make it clear that we are not banning abortion. That's not what we're talking about. And so we've got to fight that misinformation.

MORRIS: Humphries says the amendment would simply empower state legislators to make new abortion laws and to defend existing regulations. Danielle Underwood with the Value Them Both Coalition says the current interpretation of the Kansas Constitution not only forbids banning abortion, she says it threatens to nullify any state abortion regulations.

DANIELLE UNDERWOOD: All of our existing laws are presumed unconstitutional. They would have to be held up to what's called strict scrutiny. And that is an almost-impossible bar to meet for the state to defend any existing law.

MORRIS: It hasn't exactly worked out that way. Kansas still bans abortion after 22 weeks, imposes a waiting period and requires that abortion medication be provided in person, among other restrictions. Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and a U.S. attorney for Kansas under President Trump, says the Kansas Constitution does make it hard to defend abortion restrictions but not impossible. McAllister says proponents of the amendment have bigger plans.

STEPHEN MCALLISTER: This is about, basically, give the Republican Party in control of the legislature the ability to ban abortion. That's the bottom line. There will be bills to ban abortion right out of the gate.

MORRIS: Sixty percent of Kansans polled this year oppose a complete ban on abortion. But those trying to defeat the amendment that could pave the way for a ban face a steep uphill fight just getting their voters to turn out for an August primary. Still, what had, until recently, seemed like a near-automatic win for abortion opponents has turned into a real fight, one that could result in a voter-endorsed constitutional right to abortion in Kansas.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL COWLEY TRIO'S "MISSION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris
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