It was a stunning political turn following a dramatic legal development in America: Less than six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a 49-year national right to abortion—overturning 1972’s Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the conservative state of Kansas was the site of an overwhelming political victory for abortion rights. In an August 2 referendum, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the constitution of their state that would have ended the right to abortion there. The result was decisive—59 percent voting against the amendment and only 41 percent in favor, with 95 percent of the results reported. For an anti-abortion movement that worked to secure the overturning of Roe for half a century, Dobbs was its triumph; yet polls now show most Americans oppose the decision—and Democrats are eager to talk about new Republican restrictions on abortion as this fall’s U.S. midterm elections approach. How are the politics of this issue shifting?

Bill Scher is an American journalist and a contributor to The Washington Monthly. Scher says it’s too soon to gauge the full consequences of the Kansas referendum—or the broader effects on U.S. politics that Dobbs might be havingbut he sees a clear potential for the abortion-rights movement to gain greater political advantage over the coming months, especially with so many Americans viewing new Republican restrictions on abortion as extreme. In fact, Scher thinks the United States could be entering a period when abortion becomes less of a polarizing issue in the U.S., consistent with most Americans’ belief that the procedure should remain legal within certain restrictions. In the immediate future, Scher says, Dobbs has set up a highly unusual dynamic for the midterms—with Republicans now out of power yet responsible for a massive disruption to politics and policy on an issue that will be weighing heavily on voters’ minds.

Graham Vyse: What brought about this referendum in Kansas, in the first place?

Bill Scher: In 2015, Kansas’ Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law that would have banned so-called “dilation and evacuation” procedures used in late-term abortions. But Kansas’ Supreme Court struck down the law and interpreted the state constitution as protecting a basic right to abortion. Certainly, many abortion regulations remain on the books in Kansas—the procedure isn’t permitted after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless the life or health of the mother is threatened, there are parental-consent requirements for minors, and there’s no taxpayer funding for abortion at all—but, according to the Court, the law of the State of Kansas protected a basic right to end a pregnancy.

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