Home > News > What does the Kansas vote tell us about the future of abortion?
178 views 8 min 0 Comment

What does the Kansas vote tell us about the future of abortion?

Abortion rights supporters are especially motivated to get involved in politics, our research suggests

- August 16, 2022

Editors’ note: In this archival post, our contributors outlined research suggesting that reproductive rights supporters would be motivated to get involved in politics after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. It was originally published in August 2022, after Kansas voters resoundingly favored keeping abortion protection in the constitution. Since then, voters have favored abortion rights in the six other states where it has been on the ballot.

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, activists on both sides of the debate have been busy. Groups have worked on passing antiabortion legislation and started advocating for both national and state constitutional amendments to clarify that there is no right to abortion. This month, Indiana became the first state to pass a near-total abortion ban in the post-Roe era, although a number of states had already implemented “trigger laws,” which had been set to go into effect after Roe was struck down.

Meanwhile, hundreds of abortion rights advocates have been arrested for protesting the recent decision. Most notably, in Kansas, activists mobilized heavily against a referendum that would have allowed the state legislature to restrict abortion. Although the vote happened during a primary election, when few people ordinarily show up at the polls, roughly 60 percent of 900,000 voters in Kansas elected to keep abortion protections in the state constitution, nearly double the turnout of Kansas’s 2018 primary election.

Was the Kansas vote a fluke — or are abortion rights advocates especially motivated, more broadly, now that Roe is gone?

To find out, we conducted an online poll in July. Our findings suggest that people who oppose the Dobbs decision are more likely to be politically active than those who support the decision — which may sustain their political momentum more than the summer.

Supporters and opponents of abortion behave different politically

We recruited our survey sample using CloudResearch, a global research platform that integrates Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. While we use an online convenience or opt-in sample rather than a nationally representative poll, responses from convenience samples tend to be similar to those collected using more nationally representative samples.

Our sample reflects the U.S. population in age and gender, although respondents’ level of education is marginally lower and the sample is slightly less racially diverse, and more heavily weighted toward White respondents. Our results represent the opinions of those surveyed and cannot be extracted to the whole U.S. population. After we filtered out responses completed in an unusually short amount of time (less than 180 seconds) and responses that failed an attention check, 1,244 quality responses remained.

We asked respondents what they knew and felt about the recent Dobbs decision. In keeping with other research, we found that 56 percent of our sample’s respondents opposed the decision and 30 percent supported it. Women in our sample overwhelmingly opposed the ruling, with 64 percent against it.

We then asked respondents a number of closed- and open-ended questions about their likely political behavior. For instance, we asked if they would be likely to volunteer for or donate to a “pro-choice” or “pro-life” organization or attend a “pro-choice” or “pro-life” rally or protest. Such political activities are central to civil society, organizing, and social movements, as they help channel people toward institutional political involvement, like voting.

In our sample, respondents who opposed Dobbs were 15 percentage points more likely to donate to a pro-choice organization than individuals who supported the decision were likely to donate to a pro-life organization. Similarly, respondents who opposed the decision were 11 percentage points more likely to volunteer with a pro-choice organization than individuals who supported the decision were to volunteer with a pro-life organization. Most strikingly, opponents of the Dobbs decision were 31 percentage points more likely to attend a political rally or protest in support of abortion than supporters of the decision were to attend a rally or protest in opposition to abortion.

(Emily B. Jackson and Angie Torres-Beltran)
(Emily B. Jackson and Angie Torres-Beltran)

Respondents perceive reproductive health at risk

Before we asked respondents about their views on abortion, we asked an open-ended question about what respondents find most important when volunteering. Many respondents pointed to the urgency of addressing reproductive health issues. One wrote that “our society is facing some terrible truths regarding laws surrounding women’s health.” Another wrote that “improving women’s health policies [is] on the top agenda,” and a third respondent noted that “providing women with the best medical care possible without infringement on their freedoms is needed across the country.”

In other words, without any prompting on the topic of abortion or Roe v. Wade, roughly 10 percent of our sample expressed how the Dobbs ruling had affected their thinking about civic participation — which suggests that those attitudes may linger and, potentially, prompt them to act. Thus, although a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll finds that abortion rights supporters aren’t sure they’ll vote this fall, pundits and party mobilizers may wish to keep this in mind for the midterms. Given the surge in Democratic campaign ads focused on abortion rights, it appears they have.

Opponents of Dobbs push back

If the broader U.S. population looks like the individuals in our sample, our findings suggest that Americans who oppose the Dobbs decision are disproportionately more likely to take action — protesting, donating, and voting based on their anger about the loss of abortion rights. Since highly active, well-mobilized feminist movements in Latin America have recently succeeded in legalizing or decriminalizing abortion, this may suggest U.S. political shifts ahead.

As some Republican-led states attempt to build on the Dobbs momentum by working to criminalize and restrict access to abortion, many fear that access to contraception and health care could come be threatened as well. However, our findings suggest that abortion rights supporters still care about this issue and are likely to mobilize against it.

Emily B. Jackson (@emilybjack) is a PhD student in government at Cornell University.

Angie Torres-Beltran (@angietorresbel) is a PhD candidate in government at Cornell University.