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Rachel Sweet: One year ago, Kansas made history. The fight to protect abortion rights isn’t over. (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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When I woke up before dawn on the morning of Aug. 2, 2022, I could feel the energy. In the 40 days since Roe v. Wade was overturned, our staff and hundreds of volunteers had redoubled our efforts and vowed to leave nothing to chance. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors, made hundreds of thousands of phone calls, and worked to ensure Kansans would show up in droves on Election Day.

As the manager for the “vote no” campaign, I’d seen the momentum build to a fever pitch in the weeks ahead of the primary election. Following the leaked decision in May and then the Dobbs decision in June, Kansans were registering to vote, coming out to volunteer, showing up to phone bank, and voting early. The excitement was palpable. We could feel that we were on the brink of something monumental, win or lose.

As the day progressed, massive lines at voting locations were a clear illustration of Kansans’ desire to make their voices heard and to vote on their constitutional rights. By 9:30 p.m., sitting in a hotel watching the results flood in, we were stunned by the turnout and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for reproductive freedom.

One year ago, Kansas became the first state in the nation to vote on reproductive rights following the fall of Roe v. Wade and the first to boldly protect the constitutional right to abortion. It will go down in history as the first vote, the first victory, and a pivotal moment for women in our ongoing battle for equality and autonomy over our bodies. Kansans from all walks of life made it happen: dads and grandmas, college students and retirees, city dwellers and rural voters, and people of all races.

Kansans from every corner of this great state understand how complicated and, sometimes, dangerous pregnancy can be. We know that women deserve the constitutional right to make their own decisions about pregnancy and abortion free from government interference. We came together last year to protect that right, along with the health, safety, and lives of women and mothers.

Sadly, many of our neighboring states have chosen to pass extreme bans on abortion, with some states banning it completely. In Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, abortion is banned outright with no exception for rape or incest. These bans put the lives of women at risk.

Let’s take a look at our neighbors to the south. In Oklahoma, politicians passed three overlapping and conflicting abortion bans. These extreme bans result in life-threatening consequences for patients. Women are literally being told they cannot receive a medically necessary abortion unless they are dying.

One Oklahoma patient told reporters the hospital staff said “we cannot touch you unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes so high that you are fixing to have a heart attack.” She nearly died of sepsis as a result of Oklahoma’s laws.

In Texas, women are challenging the state’s extreme abortion ban in court, a ban they attest put their lives on the line when they suffered pregnancy complications. One patient, pregnant with twins, described the heartbreaking decision to terminate one of the twins who had a lethal fetal anomaly. The decision would save the other twin’s life and her own, but she could not get the care she needed in Texas.

“I don’t blame my OB or my specialists,” she said. “The law does not take cases like mine into consideration. I did have an anesthesiologist during my C-section who was a state rep, (Cypress Republican) Tom Oliverson, and so I do know that he supports the abortion bans and laws, so I do put blame on him.”

The right to access abortion and to be protected from life-threatening pregnancy complications should not depend on where you live. But sadly, in the post-Roe world, it often does. Kansans should be proud that we stood strong to protect reproductive freedom one year ago. For many voters, this was a decision driven by love for the women in their lives — their daughters, granddaughters and perhaps themselves.

As we said over and over last year after we lost our federal constitutional rights, Kansas may be the first state to vote on reproductive freedom, but we will not be the last. By the end of 2022, five more states had voted to protect abortion rights in some manner. And more will follow. This fight will continue until every woman can get the care she needs and deserves, regardless of her zip code.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

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