People in Kansas voted against an amendment to remove the right to an abortion from the state’s constitution on Tuesday.
The measure would have allowed the legislature to overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court decision declaring access to abortion a fundamental right under the state constitution.
It was the first statewide electoral test since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalised abortion nationwide.
US President Joe Biden said the result, from a much higher turnout than expected, indicated “the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion”.
With 98 per cent of the vote counted, 59 per cent of voters favoured preserving abortion rights compared to nearly 41 per cent who supported removing abortion protections from the state constitution, according to Edison Research.
“Anti-abortion politicians put this amendment on the primary ballot with the goal of low voter turnout, but they discounted Kansans, who said loud and clear they believe and trust patients to make their own medical decisions,” Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, one of the groups campaigning against the amendment, said on its Facebook page.
The result will prevent Kansas' Republican-led legislature from passing severe abortion restrictions in the state, which has become an abortion access point for America's heartland.
“This should be a real wake-up call for abortion opponents,” Neal Allen, a political-science professor at Wichita State University, told Reuters.
“When a total ban looks like a possibility, then you're going to get a lot of people to turn out and you're going to lose a lot of the more moderate supporters of abortion restrictions.”
Kansas' current restrictions on abortions have a term limit of 22 weeks for cases where the pregnant woman's life is in danger.
Since June, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, Kansas has had patients arrive from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and other states that have banned the procedure almost entirely.
Kansas' ballot initiative is the first of several that will ask US voters to weigh in on abortion rights this year. Kentucky, California, Vermont and possibly Michigan will have abortion on the ballot this autumn.
“Tonight’s loss is a huge disappointment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide,” Mallory Carroll, a representative of Pro-Life America, a national anti-abortion group, told Reuters. “The stakes for the pro-life movement in the coming midterm elections could not be higher.”
Kansas Republicans had been pushing for a state constitutional amendment to eliminate abortion rights since 2019, when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state constitution protected the right to abortion.
As a result of the ruling, Kansas has maintained more lenient policies than other conservative neighbours. The state allows abortion up to 22 weeks with several restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for minors.