Pro-lifers suffered a setback on Thursday as the “Value Them Both” amendment was defeated in Kansas.
This amendment was drafted in response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision which found that the state constitution protects a so-called right to abortion. Many Kansas pro-lifers were concerned that this judicial ruling would jeopardize current pro-life laws and make it more difficult to pass additional laws that would protect the preborn. Over the summer, however, this campaign took on new importance, as it was one of the first political battles over abortion since the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade was handed down.
Though the outcome of Tuesday’s election is certainly disappointing, pro-lifers need not despair. This is for three reasons. First, a substantial body of academic research shows that campaign spending plays an outsized role in direct democracy campaigns. Since abortion is a multibillion-dollar industry subsidized with millions of state and federal taxpayer dollars, supporters of legal abortion can almost always outspend pro-lifers. Indeed, that was the case in this election. Media reports indicate that Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which opposed the amendment, outspent the “Value Them Both” campaign by over 1 million dollars.
Second, history shows pro-life ballot propositions can win, but only when two conditions hold. The first condition is that the campaign must take place in a conservative state. The second is that the pro-life policy change must be popular, incremental, and difficult to caricature. Indeed pro-lifers have used direct democracy to stop taxpayer funding of abortion via state Medicaid programs in Colorado, Arkansas, and West Virginia. Additionally, pro-life parental involvement laws prevailed at the ballot box in Florida, Alaska, and Montana.
On Tuesday, the first condition held, but the second did not. The long-term implications of the “Value Them Both” amendment were somewhat unclear, and that made it easier for our opponents to distort the measure. Remember back in 2011, a personhood amendment was defeated in Mississippi, one of the most pro-life states in the country. A large reason for the defeat is that the implications of the amendment were unclear. Some voters thought it would affect in-vitro fertilization or access to contraception.
Third, the Kansas vote took place after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Since the reversal of Roe, corporate media coverage of sanctity of life issues has become even more partisan and more biased. The media have amplified rare scenarios where pregnant women did not receive proper medical care — due in most cases to misunderstandings by medical professionals — not because of protective pro-life laws. Corporate media coverage of the outstanding work of pregnancy help centers post-Dobbs has been virtually non-existent.
That said, pro-lifers need not despair. Since the Dobbs decision, numerous state-level laws have taken effect protecting thousands of preborn children. Furthermore, a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute found that in 11 states where pro-life laws were in effect, 43 abortion facilities were no longer performing abortions. Overall, Guttmacher predicts that protective pro-life laws will eventually be in effect in 26 states. As such, pro-lifers need not despair. Indeed, post-Dobbs pro-lifers have some great opportunities. We should redouble our educational, service, and legislative efforts to protect both women and preborn children.
Michael J. New is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Practice at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, and a Paige Comstock Cunningham Fellow at Americans United for Life.
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