The conservative US state of Kansas voted in a referendum to protect abortion rights – a major victory for pro-choice groups.
Voters overwhelmingly said they did not want to amend the state constitution to declare abortion, not a right.
It was the first ballot test on the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to ban the process.
Had the vote gone the other way, lawmakers could have further restricted or banned abortion in Kansas.
The Kansas ballot question has been eagerly awaited since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, two months ago. Projections suggest that the Kansans voted over 60% support the state’s constitutional right to access abortion for women.
For now, it’s just a screening and the official result will be confirmed within a week.
When Roe v Wade was canceled, President Joe Biden said the right to abortion would be a problem for voters. What happened in Kansas turned that theory into evidence.
The referendum result is seen as a landslide in a state that former Republican President Donald Trump won by 15 points just two years ago. For Democrats and pro-choice groups, it’s a sign that Americans are deeply unhappy with the repeal of abortion laws — and the Supreme Court’s decision not to follow the public.
The United States holds midterm elections on November 8, with Democrats battling to retain control of Congress.
Mr Biden said the result showed “the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion”.
One voter, Taylor Hirth, wept as she celebrated the result with her nine-year-old daughter at a watch party in Overland Park, Kansas.
“I survived a rape and the thought of my daughter getting pregnant and not being able to do anything about it upsets me,” she told the BBC. “I never thought it would happen here, but we’ve worked so hard here to get the setup in place. The Republicans underestimated us.
Value Them Both, a Kansas-based anti-abortion group, said “Kansas has suffered an onslaught of misinformation over the past six months from radical left-wing organizations” who have spread “lies” about the change.
“This result is a temporary setback and our dedicated fight for the dignity of women and babies is far from over,” the Twitter page said in a post.
Kansas officials said turnout statewide was significantly higher than expected on primary election day when Republicans typically outnumber Democrats twice.
The month before the vote, amid much commotion, a Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary were defaced with red paint and a pro-choice slogan. On the eve of the vote, some Kansans had received a misleading text urging them to vote “yes” to protect the choice, but the opposite was true: a “yes” vote was to prevent access to abortion. Tech Company Twilio said it had suspended the anonymous sender from its platform.
Although Kansas is very conservative, abortion rules are less strict than in many other Republican-led states.
It allows for termination of pregnancies for up to 22 weeks with other restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for children.
The Great Plains state legislature is controlled by anti-abortion Republicans, but its politically vulnerable governor, Laura Kelly, is a Democrat. He warned that changing the state constitution would bring Kansas “back to the Middle Ages.”
More than a dozen Republican-led states have banned or further restricted abortion since the June 24 Supreme Court ruling.
But 10 US states, including Kansas, have abortion rights enshrined in their state constitutions, provisions that can only be revoked by referendum.
Other states, such as California and Vermont, will vote in November to improve abortion protections in their state constitutions.
Additional reports by Max Matza, Robin Levinson-King, and Tiffany Wertheimer