Last week, Kansans voted by a double-digit margin to reject a referendum that would have removed abortion protections from the state constitution. The historic pro-choice win dominated national headlines and quickly changed the political debate about abortion in a post-Roe world.
But amid the booming victory lap of many abortion rights supporters, something else happened: Anti-abortion extremist Kris Kobach quietly won the Republican primary for state attorney general. Kobach has a long anti-abortion record, including being one of the lead proponents of the Value Them Both amendment that nearly 60% of Kansans voted against.
A general election win for Kobach — a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump — would likely mean the fight for abortion rights in Kansas is far from over.
“Kris Kobach wants to make Kansas the most hostile state in the country for abortion rights,” said Emily Trifone, the deputy communications director at Democratic Attorneys General Association.
Kobach won the Republican nomination with just over 42% of the votes last week, beating out state Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi. The win solidifies Kobach’s comeback after losing a GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2020, and losing the governor’s race to Kansas’ current Gov. Laura Kelly (D) in 2018 — despite Trump’s endorsement.
An attorney, Kobach first rose to fame as the author of a strict anti-immigration law in Arizona and later served as Kansas’ secretary of state. His far-right, anti-immigration views and calls for stricter voter ID laws catapulted him into national prominence during the Trump years. And his views on abortion have remained constant throughout his political tenure.
Kobach has continually called for the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v. Wade, and believes there should be no exceptions for abortion restrictions. In 2018, Kobach supported legislation to ban all abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected. In 2004, he was a proponent of a bill that requires people seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound and mandates the state to tell patients that an abortion will cause a fetus to feel pain — an often cited anti-choice talking point that has not been scientifically proven. Kobach also opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood, comparing the pro-choice organization to Nazis in 2015.
The day after winning his party’s nomination for state attorney general, Kobach told The Associated Press he was disappointed that Kansans rejected the Value Them Both amendment that would have stripped protections for abortion rights from the state constitution. He walked back his disappointment in an interview later that same day.
“I’ll be an attorney general for all Kansans regardless of their political affiliation,” Kobach told a local news outlet. “The defeat of the Value Them Both amendment means that the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 opinion … stands and so that sets the legal background for any defense of pro-life laws in Kansas. I will defend those laws. I will defend all the laws in Kansas.”
But, in a five-point plan published in May that details what Kobach would do if elected, the Republican openly prioritized restricting abortion access in the state.
“After the Value Them Both Amendment passes, I will use my authority as Kansas Attorney General to ensure that all of Kansas’s pro-life laws that were overturned or threatened by the Hodes & Nauser decision of the Kansas Supreme Court are immediately restored to full effect,” Kobach wrote in his plan.
“I will also push for additional laws to make Kansas the most pro-life state in America. And when the ACLU sues to block our pro-life laws, I will aggressively defend them in court.”
Kobach did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The pro-choice win on the Value Them Both amendment was a surprise to many in a state that Trump carried by 15 points in 2020. Yet Kansas has some purple streaks, including a Democratic governor and a large contingency of unaffiliated or independent voters (29%). And it wasn’t just urban and suburban counties that voted against the Value Them Both amendment, according to Kansas City Star political editor Brian Lowry. The ballot initiative also saw support for abortion rights from rural counties that haven’t voted for a Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson.
The landslide vote against the anti-abortion ballot initiative could be a preview into the midterm elections: Some swing voters may prioritize reproductive rights given the fall of Roe, possibly sparking a blue wave in November that could wipe out Kobach’s chances of winning attorney general.
Chris Mann, the Democratic candidate for Kansas’ attorney general, won his party’s nomination last week in an uncontested primary. The former police officer and local prosecutor told HuffPost he believes Kobach will prioritize his political agenda over the health care of Kansans.
“Kobach has made clear time and time again that he is a politician at heart, not a public servant. He will push his personal political agenda at the expense of the health and safety of Kansas families,” said Mann. “When I’m elected, I will do what I’ve always done as a police officer and prosecutor ― focus on public safety, not politics. As attorney general, I will enforce the law and protect the constitutional rights of all Kansans.”
Since Roe fell in June, around a dozen states in the South and Midwest have severely restricted or banned abortion — making Kansas an unlikely sanctuary state. And the fact that Kansas is now a refuge for millions of Americans seeking abortion shows just how dire access to care really is.
Abortion is already heavily regulated in Kansas: It’s banned after 22 weeks except to save the life of the pregnant person, and government funding for abortion care is outlawed. There are only five clinics left in the state, and there are a slew of other barriers to get care, including a 24-hour waiting period, state-mandated ultrasounds and required religious counseling.