Hundreds of people flooded the Statehouse on Saturday, urging the importance of voting against a proposed abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution, just days before the Tuesday election.
While abortion-rights activists have held several rallies at the capitol since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, erasing the right to an abortion nationally, they saved their largest turnout for last.
The amendment would clarify that the Kansas Constitution doesn't confer the right to an abortion, a response to a 2019 state Supreme Court decision.
When Kansas voters head to the polls Tuesday, they will be the first nationally to weigh in on the abortion issue since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a fact not lost on those in attendance.
"When I read the news about Roe v. Wade being overturned, I had so many feeling: rage, sadness. I felt incredibly hopeless," said organizer Kurstin Gaudet.
Jae Moyer shared the story of a Missouri bartender friend, who feared their access to abortion or birth control might be limited. Missouri is one of several states that had a trigger law banning abortion go into effect after Roe was struck down.
For those in Kansas, Moyer said, "the silver lining is that we're not in Missouri. We're in Kansas, where we have the opportunity to tell these lawmakers and everyone in Washington, D.C. and everyone in the world 'no.'"
Voters will see option to vote "yes" or "no" on the amendment.
Supporters of the so-called Value Them Both amendment had their own event earlier in the day at coalition offices in central Topeka. The training and door-to-door canvassing event was closed off from reporters. A public rally in Johnson County occurred earlier in the day.
"We have been amazed by the outpouring of support, help, assistance, and also donations that have come in from everyday Kansans who believe that Kansas must protect our ability to keep our life saving laws in place," Danielle Underwood, a spokesperson for Kansans for Life, told reporters on a conference call this week.
But in a nod to the state motto of Ad Astra Per Aspera — Latin for "to the stars through difficulty" — Moyer said the difficulty is "what Republicans throw at us."
"We'll fight for our daughters and our sisters and our nieces and our loved ones," Gaudet said. "And we'll even fight for the pro-life who make exceptions only for themselves and their loved ones, because it's everybody's right. It's a choice about bodily autonomy, human rights, women's rights."
Cathy Grigsby, a Basehor resident, came to the rally dressed to resemble the famed World War II-era symbol of Rosie the Riveter. Her decision to come, she said, was based on the need to collectively fight for all Kansans.
"I'm here for all of us, not just me, but everybody," Grigsby said. "The poor, the Black, the transgender, the gay, the disabled, the sick. I'm here to fight for our rights."
Organizers urged attendees to canvass after the event in opposition of the amendment and also gathered signatures in support of Sen. Dennis Pyle, who is mounting an independent campaign for governor, in hopes of boosting incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly.
Attendees share personal experience with abortions at rally
Numerous supporters of abortion rights told personal stories, as is common at events like Saturday's combination rally, march and canvassing event.
"There are a lot of people who are talking about their health care decisions that probably either shouldn't be shared or wouldn't be shared if Republicans in Topeka, if Republicans in the Statehouse, were not making this a big issue," Moyer said.
Lin Marando has cystic fibrosis, making her unplanned pregnancy extremely high risk and prompting her to need an abortion.
"I knew what I needed to do, because I didn't want to risk dying," she said of her thoughts as she lay in a hospital bed, surrounded by doctors.
Several months later, she left her abusive boyfriend, relieved she wasn't tied to him via a child.
"I just think, 'Oh my God, I'm so happy that I can just leave,'" Marando said of her thoughts as she fled physical violence. "So happy that I'm not stuck here because I didn't have a kid with him — if I'd even survive childbirth and pregnancy with my health issues."
Pegah Naemi Jimenez, a prenatal doula, said her clients seek an advocate for their reproductive health care when they go to medical facilities.
"There's a lot of people out there who aren't sure if they're going to walk out alive, and they're definitely not sure if their baby is going to walk out alive, and they sure as hell aren't sure they're going be able to get a safe abortion," Naemi Jimenez said.
Lawmakers haven't said what, if any, new restrictions they would consider if the amendment passes and supporters of the measure have long said their focus is on restoring existing regulations struck down by state courts.
But amendment opponents were stark in laying out the stakes, with Naemi Jimenez saying lives would be put at risk if lawmakers pass new abortion restrictions.
"Abortion has saved so many lives, because abortion is health care," Marando said. "It's a decision that only the person who is pregnant can decide on."
The Capital-Journal's Evert Nelson contributed reporting.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas abortion-rights activists hold rally outside statehouse