By: Dr. Gail James
Marilyn Fowler, Founder and CEO of WIN for over 20 years, started her professional and civic career in Kansas City. She was on the Planned Parenthood Board and was President of the Commission on the Status of Women. Two founding Board members of WIN (Gail James and Linda Thurston) were based in Kansas. So, Marilyn would be thrilled to hear of the recent success of the Vote NO campaign in Kansas since her commitment to reproductive health and rights permeated her life of service to women and girls.
Coverage of the Vote NO campaign has been widespread since it was the first vote in the nation to reflect post-Roe reality. Legislators on the Right have long sought to contain the KS Supreme Court’s support for abortion rights by forcing an amendment to the state constitution, which would have virtually eliminated women’s access to abortion services. In response, a coalition was formed comprised of ACLU Kansas, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Trust Women (A Wichita-based organization whose founder, Dr. George Tiller, was murdered by an anti-abortion activist), and URGE, Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity.
This Coalition, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, promoted the Vote NO Campaign, www.kansansforfreedom.org, by developing a clear strategy to focus on Kansas values of constitutional justice and to coalesce campaign strategies for candidates and those for issues. Revolving around fundamentals: clarifying the unclear ballot language (intentional obfuscation by the right), focusing on canvassing, phone banking, and voter-to-voter connections, the approach sought to encourage a NO vote by reminding voters, however conservative or unaffiliated, that this amendment would be detrimental to women and girls and their families. Most importantly, the Coalition determined that Kansas voters would respond to messaging rejecting “government overreach” into personal lives and would react positively to women’s personal stories. A massive
volunteer cadre of students and men and women of all ages, spread out over the state, including faith leaders who objected to the extreme views and tactics of the Vote Yes campaign.
Millions of dollars, a million calls, and thousands of doors knocked: the Vote NO advocates prevailed by a margin of approximately 60% to 40%. Lessons to be learned: 1) even conservative voters realize that access to abortion services is a critical element of healthcare; 2) extreme legislators do not reflect the views and wishes of the public; 3) the Vote Yes side, supported by the Church and evangelical views, created the “Value Them Both” slogan, which did not address the lack of support for family healthcare; 4) the campaign opened the door to questions about “forced pregnancy,” which voters have now rejected.
The huge voter registration, turnout, and fund-raising proved that the public can be motivated to respond to ballot initiatives on issues that impact them directly. The successful vote on the Kansas amendment may usher in a new phase of
reproductive justice issues on ballots in many states. However, no one in the state is resting on laurels; we are preparing for the next onslaught of extreme legislation by right-wing ideologues. The November elections will test the strength of judicial support and key campaign races. But we know now that “when we show up, we stand up and speak up.”
WIN’s founder, Marilyn, would be so proud of her Kansas friends!