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EDITORIAL: Kansas vote highlights nuanced views on abortion

Progressives rejoiced this week over the Kansas vote that will prevent that state’s Legislature from banning abortion, with some activists arguing that the result amounted to a rebuke of the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, it was anything but — and the results should be a warning to extremists on either side.

In overturning Roe v. Wade in June, the majority justices didn’t outlaw abortion. They simply held that the Constitution grants no such national right and that the matter should be left up to the people to decide in each of the 50 states. What took place in Kansas is precisely what the court envisioned. The democratic process prevailed.

The referendum wouldn’t have imposed restrictions on abortion but would have overturned a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found that the state constitution guaranteed a right to the medical procedure. That would have kicked the matter to lawmakers. But Jayhawk State voters clearly weren’t prepared to risk the possibility that the Legislature might enact a total ban.

Even abortion-rights supporters were surprised by the 20-point margin of victory. This in a reliably conservative state that went for Donald Trump by 21 points in 2016 and 14 points four years later. The results indicate that there are plenty of Republican voters who are not abortion prohibitionists. Pro-life supporters who fail to understand this reality set themselves up for repeated disappointment.

But it’s also true that there are many Democrats who remain uncomfortable with the abortion-on-demand-anytime wing of their party. Polls show support for the procedure slipping significantly in the latter stages of pregnancy. Ballot questions in blue states that seek to legalize abortion without limitation may also run into resistance.

“We’ve found that many voters who would define themselves as pro-life still embrace several exceptions,” one political pollster told The Wall Street Journal. “Conversely, many voters who would define themselves as pro-choice would embrace certain time limits.”

Turnout in the Kansas balloting was high, raising hopes among Democrats that the issue can help them fight off midterm election losses. We’ll see. But has Kansas suddenly turned blue on the basis of Tuesday’s balloting? Hardly. Still, Republicans should pay heed and realize that the great majority of voters have nuanced views and aren’t looking for all or nothing on this controversial issue.

The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once noted that states are the laboratories of democracy. This week’s abortion vote in Kansas has again proved his point.

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