The pro-choice jubilation that overtook the state of Kansas is beginning to subside, as all victorious celebrations eventually do. What’s less clear is if the revelers fully grasp that they’re still running against howling headwinds.
This is despite the overwhelming support Kansans showed for reproductive rights in the Aug. 2 vote. At about a 60/40 split, voters deep-sixed an amendment that would have opened the door to a conservative Kansas legislature intent on restricting abortion.
Nothing about the vote stops those legislators from testing out new limits in an attempt to re-raise the issue in the courts.
The battle to regain reproductive rights in Kansas and in America has barely begun. And Kansas is more of an anomaly than what will be the norm in most states.
Come November, voters in only four other states will see abortion explicitly on the ballot in similar ways, as a question about their state’s constitution: California, Michigan, Vermont and Kentucky.
Most Americans will encounter it less directly through the views of politicians campaigning on multiple issues.
Indiana provides proof. The Hoosier state became the first to illustrate a post-Roe v. Wade reality.
Indiana’s legislature banned abortion from conception, with few exceptions. It was a battle for GOP moderates to pass exceptions for rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormalities and the health of the mother.
Executives of the Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company reacted quickly, issuing threatening statements that the drug maker expects the new restrictions to limit its recruitment and growth plans.
“Given this new law, we will be forced to plan for more employment growth outside our home state,” read the company’s statement.
But will those same Lilly upper-income bracket, C-suite executives punish legislators in re-elections? Or might they rationalize a vote to protect tax cuts, ensure less regulation or invite incentives to augment the company’s bottom line?
Corporate executives aren’t exactly known to be single-issue voters.
Ditto for the members of the Indy Chamber of Commerce which also expressed dismay, calling the new law “reckless.”
This happened mere days after Kansas voters resoundingly demonstrated what surveys show: Most Americans support access to abortion, within limits.
And yet, this doesn’t matter as much as pro-lifers wish. This is a harsh demoralizing truth. But the sooner the pro-choice side accepts the situation, the sooner they will be on firm ground to act.
The most sobering interview I’ve conducted in recent months was with a University of Kansas professor who has studied abortion laws for decades.
Professor Alesha E. Doan, 50, does not believe she will see reproductive rights restored within her lifetime. This reason is the political landscape of gerrymandered districts. These include districts of hyper-conservative state legislatures and conservative appellate judges, and are rigid against easy unwinding.
This groundwork was put into place over decades, while most pro-choice voters weren’t paying attention. The assumption, among the pro-choice crowd, was that the right to an abortion was safely enshrined in the federal Roe v. Wade ruling.
Sure, journalists regularly reported on the step-by-step erosion of reproductive rights, of various politicians taking it up as a single issue and the politicization of religious views that place life at conception. Yet those stories weren’t enough to raise the big red flag, which quickly sprang up when the Supreme Court indicated it was likely to overturn Roe v. Wade in a leaked memo in early May.
That momentum from the shock and backlash of that memo and the eventual ruling helped organize new and longtime voters around the Kansas vote. That all-hands-on-deck energy won’t be replicated easily, even by November.
Here’s the new rule: Every vote is about abortion.
A governor can either veto or sign into law what the legislature passes. The secretary of state oversees elections and processes that put those state officials into office, the retention of judges will be in play as they will lean toward upholding bans or reproductive rights, the attorney general can decide how fervently the office will defend state laws.
For those still fuzzy on how Roe v. Wade was overturned, this is how it happened: Democrats and pro-choice voters believed that the right to an abortion, with limits, was sealed by Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, anti-abortion forces were slowly and very adeptly altering the political landscape to undercut the historic ruling.
Regaining that ground demands using the same playbook, one that was almost expertly practiced by religious conservatives.
Faith plays the long game. It’s the strong suit of the most fervently religious, among whom we find many anti-abortion stalwarts. The latter patiently re-structured the makeup of the nation’s courts and many of its legislatures. They did so with a single-minded resolve.
Pro-choice voters will only gain back some leverage by adopting the focused brand of patient diligence that the religious right used to achieve its aim.
PITTS ON VACATION
Columnist Leonard Pitts, whose columns typically appear on these pages, is on vacation for the remainder of August. His columns will return to The Lima News in September.
Reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.