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Behind the Kansas abortion shocker: Why some red states don’t want a total ban

What happened in Kansas is what the Supreme Court, and defenders of its abortion ruling, say they wanted.

Not the outcome, to be sure: A stunning surge of voters who supported keeping the right to abortion in the state constitution, just a point below the level considered a landslide victory.

But the whole rationale for overturning Roe v. Wade was to take such decisions out of the hands of unelected judges and put them closer to the people, on a state by state basis. Well, in Kansas, a conservative state where Republicans far outnumber Democrats, the people have spoken, with a 59 to 41% declaration.

Now those who are passionately pro-life will keep on fighting, as they have every right to do, just as pro-choicers wouldn’t have given up if they had gotten beaten. This is just one round in the Kansas battle.

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But it serves as a national warning that complete bans on abortion, while inevitable in some red states, are not so easily accomplished. And many Republican lawmakers must have woken up yesterday and wondered whether they need to compromise.

It’s no coincidence that some conservative Republican governors haven’t seized this moment to make abortion totally illegal in their states. Ron DeSantis, who obviously has 2024 ambitions, is sticking with his past position of no abortions after 15 weeks – which might have seemed dramatic a few months ago but is now a middle ground, perhaps better suited to Florida and a White House campaign.

What is fueling the abortion rights side, in my view, is extensive media coverage of the lack of exceptions proposed in some state bans. The Idaho GOP has endorsed the idea of not allowing abortions even if the mother’s life is in danger. And stories about women with serious miscarriages being allowed to bleed for days because the treatment is the same as an abortion haven’t exactly projected an image of compassion.

The rape of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who went to Indiana for an abortion, once it was confirmed, provides a graphic case for those who say it is cruel and heartless to force victims to give birth to their rapist’s babies. 

Tudor Dixon, who won the GOP nomination for Michigan governor on Tuesday, described a hypothetical 14-year-old girl who is sexually assaulted by her uncle as a “perfect example” of someone who should be forced to give birth. Asked if she wanted to soften her remarks, Dixon said, “I’m not hiding from it.”

These legal battles will play out in all 50 states, and now the Justice Department has joined the fray. DOJ sued over the new Idaho law, saying it violates a federal requirement (for hospitals accepting Medicare) that medical care must be provided when a pregnant woman’s life or health is at stake. Merrick Garland said “we will use every tool at our disposal” to ensure such treatment.

President Biden signed an executive order yesterday aiming to protect women who travel out of state for abortions, but its weak language only directs HHS to “consider” such action. The travel question is certain to be another front in this legal war.

In Kansas, advocacy groups poured millions into advertising campaigns, with the Catholic Church and other religious groups weighing in on one side and national abortion rights groups on the other.

Turns out the pro-choice side won counties where Donald Trump won big victories last time, making clear there were plenty of Republicans who at least favored allowing abortions with some restrictions.

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But that will be up to state legislators, who can still impose a total or near-total ban on abortions.

The flashing neon light across the country, though, is that cracking down on abortions is far more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Footnote: After months and months of bad press and worse polls, Joe Biden is having the best stretch of his presidency, beyond hailing the Kansas abortion vote.

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He took out the leader of al-Qaeda with a tough call that delivered justice to Ayman al-Zawarhi, the key plotter of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. 

He will soon sign the CHIPS Act, to make the U.S. more competitive with China on computer chips, and, with an assist from Jon Stewart, the PACT Act to help ailing veterans – both with bipartisan backing.

And depending on the mood of Kyrsten Sinema, he may be able to push through the Joe Manchin compromise on a party-line vote, with a massive investment in climate change as well as higher corporate taxes and claims of a reduction in inflation.

In politics, no losing streak lasts forever.

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