WASHINGTON – Voters in Kansas resoundingly voted to protect abortion rights on Election Day, rejecting a ballot measure that would have permitted the state’s Republican-helmed legislature to further tighten restrictions or issue an outright abortion ban.
Nearly 909,000 Kansans voted in the referendum, nearly matching the 2018 midterm election totals, in what was voters’ first significant statement on abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June.
Jewish Democrats who helped spearhead efforts to defeat the measure highlight that the victory came in such a conservative state, which former U.S. President Donald Trump carried by 15 points and where Republicans have controlled both houses of the state legislature for nearly 30 years. 532,268 Kansans — 59 percent of the total — voted to reject the measure.
“The victory in Kansas teaches us two lessons for this November: Voters across the country and across party lines do not support the Republican Party’s extreme stance on abortion, and Americans are highly motivated to hold the Republican Party accountable at the polls for their assaults on our rights,” Jewish Democratic Council of America spokesperson Sam Crystal said.
The measure in question, the "Value Them Both" amendment to the state constitution, aimed to overturn the Kansas Supreme Court's 6-1 ruling in 2019 that enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis celebrated the amendment's defeat, noting that its members were at the opposition's forefront as part of the organized Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.
"This result reinforces the separation of church and state — a prized ideal of our unique American democracy — and the First Amendment's guarantee of the right to free exercise of religion for Jews and others whose religious traditions permit abortion," the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm said in a statement.
One of these leaders, Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, told a local ABC news affiliate that he expected the local Jewish community to be "pretty close to 100 percent saying no."
"In the case of rape, the mental torment of the mother absolutely be determinative and if she said I can't go on with through pregnancy, that would be the end of it," Levin said, adding, "would I want to be subjected to someone else's theology and be told I can't have an abortion? Heck no."
ACLU of Kansas legal director Sharon Brett highlighted her Jewish faith and the gaps between Jewish teachings and the religious right’s view on abortion ahead of the vote.
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“Jewish teachings, including from the Talmud (a key text in interpreting Jewish law), and the Mishnah (a book of Jewish legal theory) clearly indicate that abortion is permitted — indeed, required — when the life of the mother is at risk,” Brett wrote in the Kansas Reflector.
She noted the Orthodox Union’s statement issued following the leaked draft of the Roe opinion stating that Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus such that where the pregnancy critically endangers the physical health or mental health of the mother.
Warning the Kansas measure would run contrary to Jewish teaching that personhood belongs to the child-bearing person first and foremost, Brett argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling serves to foreclose her ability to make healthcare decisions in a way consistent with religious liberty.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a scholar in residence with the National Council of Jewish Women, called the vote a "win for abortion rights, for abortion access, for safety, dignity and autonomy."
Both she and the NCJW highlighted the work of Dr. George Tiller, whose abortion clinic was firebombed in 1986 and who was shot in both arms in 1993 over his work prior to his 2009 murder by an anti-abortion extremist.
“Remember: abortion rights and abortion access are not the same thing. And in many of the places where there are still rights to abortion, there are still many barriers (logistical, legal, financial & other) to care. We must fight for rights AND ACCESS,” she tweeted.
U.S. President Joe Biden echoed this sentiment in his statement welcoming the victory, saying “this vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions.”