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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lantos

What matters with Kansas

Sedgewick County, home of Wichita, voted 58-42 to preserve abortion rights. That says it all. The organized anti-abortion movement started in a football stadium at Wichita State University in the summer of 1991. More than 25,000 anti-abortion activists gathered, energized each other, and went to work getting each other elected to state and federal offices. They succeeded in taking over many state legislatures, winning the White House, and transforming the Supreme Court. That energy has reshaped our politics in ways that go far beyond abortion.

The energy in Wichita has shifted. The people have had enough of being told how to live their lives by an overconfident theocracy. Much of the opposition came from outraged clergy. Rabbi Mark Levin called out when the Kansas Archdiocese for “seeking to control the lives of every person in Kansas.” Pastor Jay McKell spoke from a pew in his church and asked viewer to “trust women and respect them as God does.”

The daring and important focus was on the overlap between religious freedom and political freedom. A simple and sleek TV ad warned, “Don’t let politicians take away your freedom.” Congresswoman Sharice Davids said we were working so that “our children and grandchildren have just as many rights as we have.”

The Supreme Court sent the issue of abortion back to the people. They had every reason to believe that the people would vote against abortion. Mary Eberstadt, in the National Review, predicted that is we would just “let voters in every state weigh a framed sonogram photo against a handmaid costume.” Well, they did.

This resounding victory will be a hard result to spin. The referendum designed by abortion opponents. They carefully crafted the confusing language. They scheduled the vote when they thought they had the best chances of winning. And they got trounced.

Kansans are quirky. The state was born out of a battle to prevent slavery from spreading. Over the last hundred years, Kansas has been home to religious fanatics, crackpot demagogues, murderous abolitionists and rabid prohibitionists smashing saloons with hatchets. It has also been an early adopter and often a bellwether of everything from women’s suffrage to socialism to civil rights.

Kansans are early adopters. The vote in Kansas may signal a turning point in the national debate about abortion. The Dobbs decision has unleashed a wave of public resentment stronger than anything that the left has seen in decades. It is not just in Kansas. Carol Glanville crushed her opponent in a stunning upset in a Michigan House race. Reproductive health rights are a central issue in the Pennsylvania Governor’s race.

Justice Alito claimed that he wanted to empower voters to make decisions about abortion. But if empowered voters want reproductive freedom, they will face voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, and other attempts to subvert democracy.

The fight to overturn Roe v. Wade took fifty years. The fight to preserve reproductive rights will be long and hard. But it is not surprising that it began where the Civil War began. The longing for freedom is the common theme of both battles.

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