What an uprising in Kansas means for abortion in other red states

by Aisha Sultan

The conservative “pro-life” movement managed to do something that abortion-rights activists have been trying to do for decades — they have destroyed the stigma around abortion.

When the same Supreme Court justices who had testified during Congressional hearings that Roe v. Wade was settled law overturned abortion rights soon after, the house of cards began to fall.

Women started speaking about abortion in ways I had never heard before. Mothers bought Plan B pills for their college-aged daughters. Grandmothers shared stories about botched, illegal abortions performed before Roe. It galvanized Gen Z, the least religiously affiliated generation in this country’s history, to speak out on social media and raise eye-popping amounts of money for abortion funds.

Olivia Julianna, a 19-year-old Texan political activist, responded to Rep. Matt Gaetz’s tweet targeting her by raising more than $2 million for abortion funds.

A young Army medic went viral on TikTok for her emotional post in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. She said in her video: “I just extended my contract to continue serving this country a week ago. How am I supposed to swear to support and defend the Constitution and a country that treats its women like second-class citizens?”

These voices stood in stark contrast to the Republicans who said publicly a raped 10-year-old should be forced to give birth to the rapist’s child. Missouri state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman proposed allowing private citizens to sue anyone they suspect of helping a Missouri resident get an abortion in another state — trying to ban women from traveling to get the medical care they need.

This rise of Republican extremism and stripping away a right from half the country’s citizens was bound to provoke a backlash. What may have been less expected was the significant and rapid change in people’s private conversations and behavior.

I spoke to my teenage children about abortion rights for the first time after Roe was overturned. Close friends I have known for decades revealed their own experiences needing abortion care for the first time. I saw male politicians — in Missouri — wearing T-shirts supporting reproductive rights while campaigning.

The era of secrecy and shame around abortion is over. Ironically, Republicans ended it.

Voters in Kansas showed the country that the issue of reproductive freedom is really about freedom — period. They voted on Tuesday in support of reproductive freedom in a conservative, deep red state by rejecting changes to the state’s constitution protecting the right to an abortion. In the referendum, 59% of Kansas voters cast a ballot in support of abortion. That’s a significant majority. It highlights just how out-of-touch extremist judges and politicians are with the majority of the country.

It also suggested a path to freedom in the most oppressive states for women. Missouri is a prime state to make reproductive rights a ballot initiative. While the state votes heavily Republican, progressive ballot initiatives such as Medicaid expansion and increasing the minimum wage have won at the polls. In Kansas, at least 20% of Republicans voted for abortion rights. National polling shows that a third of Republicans opposed overturning Roe. A ballot initiative securing abortion rights is a way for Republicans to support human rights without compromising a political identity.

You may persuade people to believe conspiracy theories about things removed from their daily lives, like rigged voting machines, but it’s much harder to gaslight them about their own bodies and lived experience. A tiny minority of people believe a single-cell zygote is the exact same as their daughter or mother standing in front of them. The majority of us know that prioritizing the potential of life over a real, living breathing human being could destroy the life of someone we know — or our own.

The vote in Kansas was a primal scream for women.

Across the country, we heard it loud and clear.

Aisha Sultan is home and family editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.