Money, messaging and deceit led to failure of Kansas abortion regulation amendment. What has the pro-life side learned?

Like many around the nation, Tracey, a former Kansan, watched the state’s Aug. 2 abortion vote with great interest. Although living on the Missouri side of the state line and unable to weigh in, she was foursquare against the amendment.

She’s not so sure now.

She is, after all, in favor of reasonable restrictions on abortion. And when told only this week that the “Value Them Both” amendment would’ve simply restored lawmakers’ authority to regulate the practice, she’s decidedly less against it than she once was.

“I think I would have been more likely” to support it, Tracey, who asked not to use her last name, told The Lion.

As the amendment’s crestfallen supporters assess what went wrong Aug. 2, when the amendment was defeated by nearly 20 points, they need to more fully understand why people were against it – and what misperceptions they may have had about it.

The answers include rampant misinformation about it in the media, confusing ballot language and the opposition having spent at least $11.3 million to supporters’ $7.4 million, according to campaign finance reports through July 18.

The defeat is all the more stinging when one considers that easily more than 70% of Americans support restrictions on abortion, and even banning it altogether after 15 weeks, according to Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts.

“The most important lesson the pro-life movement can take from our defeat in Kansas’ constitutional amendment vote is to recognize that it was a defeat,” Roberts writes in an op-ed. “No good can come from pretending that a double-digit blowout, in a high-turnout election in a red state, is something other than a serious setback.”

Kansans for Life isn’t pretending. Spokesperson Danielle Underwood tells The Lion the organization is in the middle of a postmortem to find out what happened. One early conclusion, she says: The decisive factor was likely the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson decision – just 19 days before the start of early voting in the primary election.

“We’re all figuring out what this post-Dobbs era is going to be like for the country, and what kind of adjustments will be needed in strategy going forward,” Underwood says. “But there was no time to make that kind of assessment in that narrow window of time.”

The rushed campaign was easier for the opposition, she says, which didn’t have to explain the amendment – or that it was needed to counteract a Roe-like 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that somehow discovered the right to abortion in the state constitution. And, she says, the “no” campaign misrepresented the amendment to create a climate of fear around it – which, she says, didn’t take long to accomplish with the media’s help.

“We do have data that shows there was significant fear about Value Them Both, which was injected into the election, that somehow Value Them Both was going to harm women, which was ridiculous,” Underwood said. “And we saw that the anti-amendment coalition really capitalized on that short window of time between the Dobbs decision being handed down and the start of our voting 19 days later. They used that time that was filled with so much uncertainty.

“We had a 50-year watershed moment where three generations of voters didn’t have any kind of framework to be able to process what it meant to be living in a post-Roe world.

“We had a two-part task. First we had to help [voters] understand what had happened in 2019, and then we had to help them understand what the remedy was for that situation. The other side, all they had to do was shout as loud as they could, ‘It’s a ban! It’s a ban! And it’s going to kill women!’ And they literally did.”

In the end, she says, a “no” vote felt like the safe vote for a lot of confused voters.

“There was so much they did not understand, and [they] unfortunately were denied factual information in large part by the media, who amplified those false narratives about what the amendment was about and what it would do.”

And it wasn’t just the fact that opponents outspent supporters: Underwood estimates the no vote’s money, much of it funneled through the ironically named Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, came from out of state, while more than 99% of the supporters’ funds came from Kansans.

“Kansans fought hard to meet that deluge of dollars from out-of-state radical, pro-abortion interests we knew were going to be coming at us. We put up a valiant fight against the abortion industry juggernaut, but the biggest difference between the camps ended up being the source of the funds – and support for the amendment was almost entirely a Kansas effort, while the majority of the anti-amendment dollars came from the coasts and the abortion industry itself.”

If that’s the case, then one lesson the pro-life movement may have learned is how to move money across state lines.

As for Tracey, who softened her views toward the Value Them Both amendment when told what it would’ve actually done, Underwood says other “no” voters have expressed the same sentiment.

“Yeah, when people were presented with the truth about the amendment, they were very much inclined to listen and then to make a pro-amendment choice,” Underwood said.

The Heritage Foundation’s Roberts opined that the amendment’s explanation on the ballot was also a problem: “The wording was so confusing that voters on both sides of the question couldn’t be sure whether a ‘yes’ vote was the pro-choice or pro-life position.”

Underwood isn’t convinced that either pro-life campaign messaging or ballot language was the decisive factor – rather, that the vote’s fateful proximity to the Dobbs decision was.

Another possibility is that, absent a compelling pro-life presence in the major media, a lot of people just aren’t budging off their support for abortion. Missy, who does live in Kansas and voted against the amendment – and who is a registered Republican – said her no vote was a statement that she doesn’t want the legislature to regulate abortion at all.

“It should be between a woman and her doctor,” she said, adding there’s nothing the pro-life campaign could’ve said to change her mind.

Still, perhaps a pro-life opportunity was missed in the Kansas election: The amendment opponents The Lion talked with were completely unfamiliar with Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania abortionist described as a serial killer and who is serving life in prison without parole for the killing of three infants born alive in his abortion clinic, and the death of a woman in his care.

At least seven babies had their spinal cords cut with scissors to kill them after surviving abortions in Gosnell’s clinic. Yet, the pro-life community has yet to make him a household name. The pro-life campaign in Kansas might well have made him the poster child for regulating the abortion industry.

Then again, Gosnell was in good company. In 2011, about the time that he, his wife and eight of his employees were criminally charged for his clinic’s deaths, news reports said none of 22 abortion in clinics in Pennsylvania had been inspected in at least 15 years.

And now, knowingly or not, Kansans have voted to make legislative regulation of abortion clinics next to impossible. The pro-life community’s goal going forward, as Roberts suggests, is to make sure that doesn’t happen on any other front.

Post-Roe, there’s suddenly an abortion battle being waged on 50 different fronts, Underwood says.

It remains to be seen if one side is armed and ready for it.