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Missourians are working to defeat an abortion amendment in Kansas

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Voters in Kansas will be the first in the country to directly decide abortion rights following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Right now, abortion is protected in the state, but a change to the state's constitution is on the ballot next week. Just across the state line, in Missouri, abortion rights advocates are working to defeat the amendment. From member station KCUR, Celisa Calacal reports.

CELISA CALACAL, BYLINE: In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution protects the right to an abortion. Come August 2, Kansans will vote on an amendment asking if they want the Constitution to preserve that right. It's called the quote, "Value Them Both" amendment, and it will give Kansas voters the ability to directly weigh in on abortion rights. The stakes are high in the lead-up to next week's vote, especially as more Midwest states ban abortion. Many of those awaiting the results live in neighboring Missouri.

CHELSEA ANGLEMYER: I'm just afraid of what Kansans are going to do, based on what Missouri has already, like, led the path for.

CALACAL: That's Chelsea Anglemyer, one of about 50 people who gathered at a Kansas City park on a Saturday afternoon to protest restrictions on abortion access. Anglemayer lives on the Missouri side of Kansas City, in a state that immediately banned nearly all abortions after the Supreme Court's ruling. But if the amendment fails, it could lock in the right to an abortion in the state. If it passes, it would give the Republican-dominated Kansas legislature the ability to eventually ban abortion. If that happens, Missourians will lose access to what has long been considered an abortion refuge. The stakes are so high that Missouri residents are finding ways to get involved in the campaign to defeat the amendment short of actually casting a ballot. Some are canvassing in Kansas. Others are phone-banking and donating money. Anglemyer has been vocal on social media. Kansas City resident Spencer Thut has engaged voters about the Kansas abortion amendment. Thut lives near the border separating Kansas and Missouri.

SPENCER THUT: It's kind of an imaginary border to me. The fact is is that, like, we all need access to health care.

CALACAL: Since the overturning of Roe, the Kansas groups opposing the amendment have seen millions of dollars in donations flow in from out of state. But Kansans for Life, the main group supporting the amendment, isn't fazed. Spokeswoman Danielle Underwood says Kansans for Life still has more in-state support.

DANIELLE UNDERWOOD: It's clear that out-of-state, radical, pro-abortion activists and politicians in Washington, D.C., are trying to meddle in Kansas politics and policies.

CALACAL: Emily Wales heads the Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates clinics in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Of those four states, Kansas is the only one where abortions remain legal.

EMILY WALES: As rights are stripped from people around the country, Kansas just has an incredible opportunity to say, not here.

CALACAL: Missouri residents already had difficulty getting an abortion even before Roe was overturned, and thousands have traveled to Kansas for an abortion. If the Kansas amendment passes and lawmakers ban the procedure, the nearest places for Missourians to get a legal abortion will be in eastern Illinois, Iowa and Colorado. Again, a yes vote on the Kansas amendment would allow Kansas lawmakers to pass laws restricting abortion or completely banning it. A no vote would uphold the current status quo, in which the state constitution protects the right to an abortion. For NPR News, I'm Celisa Calacal in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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