The difference between the abortion rights votes in Kansas and Indiana—in results and in kind—are the clearest indicator yet of the likely direction of the midterms.
On August 5, 2022, Indiana became the first state to approve an abortion ban after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade. The ban is near total, allowing a very narrow range of exceptions.
Three days earlier, on August 2, Kansas had overwhelmingly rejected the first step toward such a ban.
Seems like a classic red state/blue state situation. But Kansas and Indiana are both safely red, almost identically so. Both went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020—Kansas by 15 points, Indiana by 16. Both have two Republicans in the Senate and Congressional delegations that are 3-to-1 red. Kansas gave us Bob Dole. Indiana gave us Mike Pence. It is hard to imagine two more similar states politically, both conservative.
So what accounts for this striking difference on the banner issue of the Republican Party? Does this toss-up make the midterms impossible to predict? Quite the opposite. The difference between the Kansas and Indiana votes gives a strong indication of what could happen in November.
Let’s start with an unsurprising result in Indiana.
The decisive vote in Indiana was cast by 147 members of the Indiana State Legislature. They cast their votes publicly in fulfillment of promises made publicly. Many of those Indiana legislators voting for the ban had campaigned loudly in confident support of that position, in campaigns run while such a ban was still hypothetical, long before the Supreme Court’s decision Changed Everything.
Then there is Kansas
The Kansas vote was not cast by 147 legislators voting in public. It was cast by more than 900,000 Kansans voting in private—almost exactly half of the electorate, the highest primary election turnout in the state’s history.
That wasn’t down to Democrats. There aren’t enough Democrats in Kansas to achieve anything close to that result. Republicans were needed, a lot of Republicans, mostly Republican women. Churchgoing women, Evangelical women, Catholic women, who voted to preserve the right to an abortion.
Take a close look at the change in women’s voter registration in Kansas, first when the Dobbs decision leaked, then when the decision was finalized:
They cared. A lot.
Why would so many Kansan Republican women support abortion rights, despite it being the banner issue of their party and religious denominations to oppose it? Because they’ve been personally impacted by the issue. Nothing else can account for the passionate engagement of that vote. About 1 in 4 women in the US will have an abortion before they are 45. Conservative women, just like other women, have sex and get pregnant and get abortions and are relieved that they could get an abortion, or know someone who did and shared their relief. Or they couldn’t get an abortion that they very much wanted to get, or knew someone who couldn’t, and shared their fear and despair. Either way, the lives of women everywhere have been touched and shaped by this issue, irrespective of party or faith.
And here’s where the disconnect happens: It is quite safe to assume that in conservative religious families, all of this happens in secrecy, unbeknownst to the men around them.
So the conservative men in the lives of these women made it their banner issue and tied the political fortunes of their party to it, having no idea that they were surrounded by women who had been deeply impacted and felt very strongly about it. And the first opportunity those conservative women got to walk into the privacy of the voting booth and reject the attempt to take away reproductive rights, they did it.
Kansas. Blood-red Kansas. Trump +15 Kansas. Aunty Em Kansas. When asked if the legislature should have the ability to remove the right to abortion from the state constitution, Kansas said fuck you. 59 to 41.
And now a party that tied its schmeckel to the denial of reproductive rights is 56 days from midterm elections and only now learning how deeply they have been pissing people of at their own dinner tables.
So the question is this: Do the upcoming midterms more closely resemble a legislative vote, or millions of individuals walking into the privacy of the voting booth for their first chance to express themselves since Dobbs?
There are other bellwethers, like a Democrat winning Alaska’s sole House seat for the first time in nearly 50 years. But Kansas is enough. A New York Times analysis of the Kansas vote suggests that 40 of the 50 states, given the chance, would vote similarly to protect reproductive rights.
Given the single-issue anchor around one party’s neck, the midterms may very well be that vote.