What Happened in Kansas: Common Sense, Common Ground

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Generally when Kansas makes the national news it’s not for a reason left-leaning Kansans are proud of. True, we have some swoon-worthy items like the largest hand dug well and the largest ball of twine (I think that one might be contested, though) so we are accustomed to those out of the state running articles that highlight embarrassing events or groups, most likely out of sheer jealousy for the aforementioned coveted tourist destinations. But for one brief, shining moment, the spotlight was on common sense and decency, not a serial pitchfork murder arrest (okay, I just made that one up, I’m pretty sure the serial pitchfork murderer is still at large).

Kansas overwhelmingly votes Republican, but there is currently a Democratic governor. The truth of it is that she would be at home in the Country Club Republican party which dominated before the Trump wing took over. It took incredible fiscal mismanagement from ex-governor Sam Brownback to make her election possible. He pushed the discredited theories of one Arthur Laffer, that among other idiocy, gave LLCs in the state no income tax. Suddenly your neighborhood lemonade stand was an LLC to avoid taxes. This actually did piss off a lot of Kansans as the typical LLCs would be enormous agri-business (not the yeoman farmer Thomas Jefferson masturbated to) or dentists, physicians…..you get the picture. But the CNA, the fast food worker–you can bet they had some state income tax to pay. The lack of incoming funds created a paradise. For potholes, that is. And any number of failing infrastructure items. So that’s what it took to get  Governor Laura Kelly voted in….. who again, is no bastion of leftist ideology. She is the current equivalent of a Nancy Landon Kassebaum type–a former Republican Senator in the state. It’s just in these parts, if you aren’t in the MAGA sector, there’s not much of a home in the current Republican party. We don’t have a functioning, vibrant left party. The current Democrats are all what would be termed moderate Republicans of the past (pre MAGA, pre Tea Party). So this is to say, that it takes a gross over-shoot to wrest power from the radical right, but it does happen.

Anyway, that is the recent background of the state–common sense will pop out periodically. The general reticent politeness common here has given the radical right the notion that everyone agrees with them. They took it for granted. But they got a huge surprise on August 2nd when their fellow citizens came out in impressive numbers to say “No” to removing protections guaranteeing abortion rights in the state. It was the first test of the population’s tolerance for the Supreme Court’s march to theocratic rule. When a state as conservative as Kansas says no, you have to realize that the Court grossly miscalculated.

Living in this state, I can attest to the loudness of the anti-abortion groups. They put out this referendum titled “Honor them Both” with nifty billboards covering the state. They sent out blanket texts encouraging a yes vote to ensure reproductive freedom in a shameless attempt to confuse voters (“No” was the needed selection to ensure that freedom). Perversely, the “honor them both” came with no honor for the mother in terms of basic guaranteed healthcare, maternity leave, or anything other than a trajectory the Republican dominated state legislature would then take forward to ban all abortions (in all instances, most likely, if leaked audio from that camp can be believed).

I had a good feeling about the vote yesterday for some very anecdotal reasons. In the town I live in, more No signs were popping up in yards. The signs were not that easy to get, we requested twice from the local Democratic headquarters, who were so slow to respond that we ended up going to another town to find them. As usual, the Democrats came in late. In contrast, the Yes signs were being handed out with wild abandon after church services. The fact that more No signs were appearing when they were much more difficult to get seemed to be an indication that the fervor that has always served the pro-forced birth movement was now a factor on the other side as well.

The fact that churches, the Catholic in particular, absolutely poured money into the referendum was a concern for those wishing to keep bodily autonomy. It didn’t come without irony that those in the state who were the most vigorously against any covid mitigation for the lives of others and in general are the most vocal against “government overreach” were the ones wanting big government in everyone’s uterus. These are typically the groups who advocate capital punishment as well, veering way off course from any notion of “pro-life”. This is also the sector that in general is pro-war for just about every situation, even in response to poor service at restaurants. The fact that these views are all at odds with each other do not seem to register with them. Of course that is because it is more about control and patriarchy–if you want to stop abortion, you educate about sex, you provide birth control–all things this group does not advocate for. They will counter that the babies (this is what they always term the embryo and fetus) are innocent while those others aren’t (the soldiers of the opposite side, those on death row, the server with blue hair and a nose ring), but the innocence of a 10 year old rape victim is of no concern to them either. They scream and foam at the mouth if they perceive their rights are trod upon, but feel entitled to take away the basic human rights of others. These are also the people who would complain if they ordered an omelet at a restaurant and were presented with a runny batch of raw eggs. They would be pro-war in that situation for certain. In short, a group of dividing cells with electrical pulses organizing does not equal an infant, but for them this group of cells is an excellent way to portray yourself as a kind person without having to extend kindness. It’s a nebulous, not yet here idea that you can revere. The few well-meaning individuals who are being fed this ideology from their respective religions just don’t have the ability to parse out the disasters that will come from these laws–increased maternal mortality, more children who are not cared for…..disasters far greater than losing rapidly dividing cells, which are often miscarried in early pregnancy due to genetic disorders. Their god gets rid of many pregnancies, making him probably the number one unintentional abortion provider. They also love the boogyman that is late term abortion, neglecting to mention this is so rare and not a “choice” thing, but more of an extreme situation of conditions like anencephaly (the fetus developing without a full brain).

In this current atmosphere, the women seeking care for even natural miscarriages will be suspect.  Women are already reporting that they can’t get needed auto-immune medications they require to lead decent lives because the medications are becoming something of a contraband. It’s just not anything but a livestock situation for women if this isn’t stopped.

The rural counties which voted “Yes” are the kinds of places that have dried up downtowns–the kinds of places that the young have had to flee due to a lack of opportunity. So many of the people who live in these areas get way too much of their news from Fox and they don’t have an eye to the future or what it takes to make a living these days. They are sadly making themselves a demographic that the young will be happy to see gone and it is all their own fault due to pure and utter selfishness and a general lack of empathy. But I do have to remind myself that even in these lonely corridors there were “No” voters. And I’m sure they have a rough time of it living around these folks. It’s important to remember that even in so-called red states/red areas that significant and large dissenters do exist and they need to be remembered and not written off.

And if a place like Kansas can say enough to all of this, then the hope is that similar states will also say No.

Let’s make this the turning point that stops the theocracy in its tracks.

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest. Her writing is collected on her Substack page.