On Tuesday, Kansas shocked the nation when voters in the conservative state beat back an attempt to remove constitutional protections for abortion rights.
Abortion rights activists seemed to have an uphill climb. Democrats have not won the state in a presidential election since 1964. While the governor, Laura Kelly, is a Democrat, Republicans dominate the state legislature.
And abortion opponents deliberately chose to put the referendum on the ballot on a day when turnout was expected to be low, and the electorate was expected to favor Republicans. With no competitive Democratic primaries on the ballot, they figured GOP voters would be the ones coming to the polls.
But conservatives didn’t just lose, they lost definitively. Fifty-nine percent voted “no” on changing the constitution, while just 41% voted “yes.” More than 900,000 people cast ballots, which is nearly twice the state’s turnout in the 2018 midterm elections. And according to a Washington Post analysis, 1 in 5 Republicans voted against the referendum.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call for us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged to HuffPost Wednesday.
While some Republicans are still in a state of shock, others are already trying to spin the results. They’re arguing that the results are actually exactly what they wanted all along. They’re meaningless. Voters were duped and actually do want to get rid of abortion rights. (Notably, Fox News has dedicated far less airtime to the results than the liberal-leaning MSNBC.)
Here are some of the ways conservatives are trying to explain away the massive support for abortion rights in Kansas:
Liberals spent millions of dollars.
Conservatives are claiming that they were the ones at a disadvantage in Kansas, because they were up against an onslaught of spending from liberals.
“Pro-aborts poured millions into a massive disinformation campaign in Kansas. Pro-abort media pulled heavily for them,” tweeted conservative activist Lila Rose, who also reiterated that message in an interview on Fox News Thursday morning.
“I do think that pro-lifers should understand that so much money was spent by hardcore abortion supporters to make sure that amendment failed,” Mollie Hemingway, editor-in-chief of conservative publication The Federalist, said on Fox News.
Yes, abortion rights supporters put millions of dollars into the Kansas fight ― but so did abortion opponents. Conservatives’ spin conveniently leaves out all the money they spent to get the ballot measure to succeed.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that about $12 million had been spent on advertising in the campaign, “split about evenly between both camps.”
The Catholic Church, in particular, funded a majority of the Value Them Both campaign, which was the leading group behind the vote-yes push.
Liberals confused voters too much.
Yes, the referendum’s wording was confusing. And that was by design ― but not because of liberals. It was because of conservatives, who were the ones who wrote it and pushed for it to get on the ballot.
For example, the measure said it would ban the “government funding of abortion,” even though Kansas already bans taxpayer money from being used for abortion. It also said it would “affirm there is no constitutional right to an abortion.” But voting “yes” would actually have done more, completely removing the existing constitutional right to access.
The amendment also said that by voting “yes,” the legislature would be allowed to pass laws regarding abortion, including ones that provide exceptions for cases resulting from rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother. It never said that a total ban, with no exceptions, could also be passed.
“How many Kansans who are generally pro-life but not plugged in went to the polls, read the ballot language, and thought, ‘Shit, I don’t want to let the legislature pass abortion laws. I’m pro-life,’” tweeted right-wing commentator Erick Erickson, suggesting the language was tilted in a way that favored abortion supporters.
“The abortion lobby’s message to voters was rife with lies that ultimately drowned out the truth,” read a statement from the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
But on Monday, some Kansas voters received text messages that warned, “Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights. Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
Those texts were incredibly misleading, at best. Voting “yes” would have taken away choice protections, opening the door for the GOP-led legislature to ban abortion. They were pushed by Republicans, crafted by a group connected to former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
The amendment actually needed to be more anti-abortion.
While some conservatives are claiming that the amendment was not nearly as far-reaching as portrayed, GOP activist and commentator Matt Schlapp believes that the problem is that the amendment did not go far enough ― and conservatives opposed it because they wanted something that went further in banning abortion outright.
“Kansas is a strongly pro life state that does not want to take timid steps as VTB [Value Them Both] was. Ironically the pro choice crowd in Kansas should have embraced VTB as it is the best case scenario for them,” he tweeted Wednesday.
This isn’t really a loss for conservatives at all!
And finally, conservatives are trying to spin the loss in Kansas ― and what it could mean for the midterm elections, with a Democratic base fired up after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ― by saying that actually, they didn’t lose at all. This is what they wanted the whole time!
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told HuffPost Wednesday it was a “good thing” because it pushed the issue back to the states.
“Well, I wouldn’t have voted that way. I think the process is a good thing. I don’t want to jump up and down too much about it because I think this is how it should be working,” he said.
“The whole point of ending Roe is so states like Kansas can decide abortion for themselves,” Erickson similarly tweeted. “The media excitement just kinda makes the Dobbs case’s argument for itself. Exactly the point - decide this democratically at the state level.”
On Fox News Wednesday, Kellyanne Conway, a former top official to President Donald Trump, said it was “exactly” what the Dobbs decision was meant to do ― “kick it back to the states.”
And an op-ed in the conservative National Review said the amendment would simply have “taken Kansas back to abortion neutrality” ― although liberals distorted it as a ban, and won.
And yet ... Republicans are already making clear that they’re interested in a national abortion ban.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.