Why West Virginia is Not Like Kansas on Abortion

The surprising outcome of the abortion vote in the Kansas Primary Election earlier this week has pro-choice advocates everywhere wondering the same thing: Do the results provide a “yellow-brick-road” pathway to wins for choice in other states, including West Virginia?

There are some notable parallels between Kansas and West Virginia.

Kansas, like West Virginia, is a deeply red state. Republicans have the largest voting block with 44 percent, compared with 39 percent in West Virginia, which is also the largest registration. And, also like West Virginia, Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Kansas legislature.

One might conclude that most Kansas voters would be anxious to repeal a provision in the state constitution protecting abortion rights so the legislature could outlaw the procedure. However, the opposite happened and by an overwhelming 59-41 margin, voters rejected the constitutional amendment.

Advocates of maintaining the abortion protection knew they had to appeal to GOP voters rather than relying only on traditional pro-choice Democrats. Abortion rights organizer Jae Gray told the Washington Post, “We believe every Kansan has a right to make personal health-care decisions without government overreach—that’s obviously a conservative-friendly talking point. We were not just talking to Democrats.”

That argument came up frequently in the abortion debate during the special session of the West Virginia Legislature last week, but it was made by Democrats, and it did not persuade many, if any, Republicans.

GOP lawmakers primarily divided into two camps—one that wanted no exceptions for rape and incest and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions and another that preferred no criminal penalties and limited exceptions.

But there was never any question that the goal for Republicans was to outlaw abortion.

Dave Helling, veteran political columnist with the Kansas City Star wrote that Johnson County—the state’s largest county and a suburb of Kansas City—played a major role in defeating the amendment.

“While pockets of conservative votes still exist, the county is clearly marching slowly away from Donald Trump Republicanism and toward—something else,” Helling wrote. “It’s an extraordinarily important trend, mirrored in suburban communities across the country.”

We do not have a “Johnson County” in West Virginia. The Trump Republicanism feels as strong now as it was in 2020 or 2016.  Johnson County was one of five Kansas Counties that voted for Joe Biden, while every West Virginia County backed Trump…overwhelmingly.

Additionally, West Virginians who want to maintain some level of reproductive freedom do not have a single issue to campaign on as they did in Kansas City. They face the more complicated challenge of highlighting the issue in legislative races and trying to sustain a show of force when lawmakers are in session.

The outcome of the Kansas election demonstrates that even in a red state, most voters want to keep abortion legal. The pro-choice advocates in West Virginia will be heartened by that outcome, but when they push for abortion rights here, they will get the feeling that they’re not in Kansas anymore.



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