The 'Value Them Both' campaign is urging supporters to vote yes to removing language from the Kansas state constitution that guarantees the right to an abortion

Olathe (United States) (AFP) - Abortion rights advocates and opponents looked anxiously to Kansas Tuesday as the Midwestern US state held the first major vote on the flashpoint issue since the Supreme Court overturned the national right to the procedure in June.

The vote is heavy with consequences for Kansans, who will decide whether to remove the right to terminate a pregnancy from the traditionally conservative state’s constitution.

But it is also seen as a test case for abortion rights nationwide, as Republican-dominated legislatures rush to impose strict bans on the procedure following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As polls closed at 7:00 pm (0000 GMT), Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said turnout was as high as 50 percent on this primary election day, local media reported, a number usually expected for a general election.

And poll worker Marsha Barrett said some 250 voters had come to a station in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe by noon – the same number it might see all day in a presidential election.

“This election is crazy,” Barrett told AFP. “People are determined to vote.”

Other states including California and Kentucky are set to vote on the hot-button issue in November, at the same time as Congressional midterm elections in which both Republicans and Democrats hope to use it to mobilize their supporters nationwide.

In Kansas, the ballot centers on a 2019 ruling by the state’s supreme court that guarantees access to abortion.

In response, the Republican-dominated state legislature introduced an amendment known as “Value Them Both” that would scrap the constitutional right – with the stated aim of handing regulation of the procedure back to lawmakers.

In the opposing camp, activists see the campaign as a barely masked bid to clear the way for an outright ban – one state legislator has already introduced a bill that would ban abortion without exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s life.

For Ashley All, spokeswoman for pro-abortion rights campaign Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the amendment would deal a blow to “personal autonomy.”

But voter Sylvia Brantley, 60, said she voted in favor of the change because she believes “babies matter, too.”

She said she wants to see more regulations, in the hope that “Kansas will not be a marketplace for killing babies.”

Activists have complained that the phrasing of the ballot question is counterintuitive and potentially confusing: voting “Yes” to the amendment means abortion rights being curbed, while people who wish to keep those rights intact must vote “No.”

- All eyes on Kansas -

Abortion rights advocates in Kansas are looking nervously to neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri which are among at least eight states to have passed near-total bans

Abortion rights advocates in Kansas are looking nervously to neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri, which are among at least eight states to have passed near-total bans – the latter making no exceptions for rape or incest – while Midwestern Indiana adopted its own rigid ban on Saturday.

Voter Chris Ehly, in Prairie Village, said he voted “no” because his daughter and wife “are very adamant about the decision.”

“I want to respect them,” he said.

Another Prairie Village voter, who declined to give her name, said she struggled to decide which way to vote.

“I’ve gone back and forth the whole time,” she told AFP, saying she ultimately chose to vote “no.”

“I feel like women should have a choice, but I also don’t want full-term babies aborted,” she said.

The outcome in Kansas – where abortion is currently permitted up to 22 weeks of pregnancy – could mean a boost or a blow to either side of the highly charged abortion debate.

Kansas leans heavily toward the Republican Party, which favors stricter abortion regulations, but a 2021 survey from Fort Hays State University found that fewer than 20 percent of Kansas respondents agreed that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest.