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Tuesday elections will impact abortion rights in Kansas, Arizona and Michigan

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ever since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, it is now up to states to decide whether people can access abortion. We're going to look now at three states where voters tomorrow will help shape the future of reproductive rights - Arizona, Kansas and Michigan, where there was some news today. Zoe Clark of Michigan Radio is in Ann Arbor.

And Zoe, I understand the courts got ahead of tomorrow's election. Tell us what happened today.

ZOE CLARK, BYLINE: Yeah. So earlier today, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision regarding the state's abortion law. In Michigan, we have a 1931 law that criminalizes abortion. That law had been dormant under Roe v Wade. Then the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision. But a couple of months earlier, a lower court here had put an injunction on that 1931 law so it wasn't in effect. That was, until today. That's when the Court of Appeals said that that injunction doesn't apply to county prosecutors, so that county prosecutors could now enforce the 1931 abortion ban.

It appears that that decision doesn't take effect, though, for 21 days. That would allow time for appeals to be filed. So right now, people in Michigan can still access abortion in the state. But it's a really confusing time, Ari, and some abortion providers aren't completely sure just about where things stand legally.

SHAPIRO: OK. So status quo, at least for a few weeks. And meanwhile, tomorrow, there is a primary in Michigan where Republican candidates who want to face Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in November are on the ballot. Is there any daylight among the Republican candidates on the issue of abortion?

CLARK: Not really. All five candidates are anti-abortion rights. All five say they support the state's 1931 law that criminalizes abortion. That includes Tudor Dixon. So she was just endorsed by former President Donald Trump on Friday night. She was also endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, which is this really big get in Michigan Republican politics.

But we should also note in Michigan, there is a ballot campaign to get abortion rights enshrined into the state constitution. The group Reproductive Freedom for All, they turned in a record number of signatures last month. It was, in fact, the most in the history of Michigan. If that question makes it onto the November ballot, voters will, of course, be voting for governor, but they would also then be voting on the future of abortion rights in the state.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, speaking of a state constitution, in Kansas, there is a constitutional amendment on the ballot tomorrow. Jim McLean of KCUR joins us from Topeka. And, Jim, voters in your state are going to be the first in the country to decide on abortion since Roe versus Wade was overturned. Tell us about this proposed constitutional amendment.

JIM MCLEAN, BYLINE: Well, that's right, Ari. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a protected right under the state constitution. So now, voters will decide whether to reverse that decision. Opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment have spent millions on ads warning that passage would clear the way for the state's Republican-controlled legislature to ban abortion. But amendment supporters have tried to calm those fears with ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's just a scare tactic. Here's what it does do. It lets us keep common-sense limits on abortion that we already agree on, like limiting extreme abortions in the third trimester, and requires abortion clinics to meet safety standards that protect women. That's not a ban. It's just common sense.

MCLEAN: While it's true that those existing restrictions could be vulnerable if the amendment is defeated, there are also indications that abortion opponents, regardless of what they're saying now, will push for an outright ban if the amendment passes.

SHAPIRO: Is it looking likely to pass? I mean, if so, what would happen to abortion rights in Kansas after that?

MCLEAN: Well, it's closer probably than many expected. Supporters pushed to get the amendment on the primary ballot instead of the November general election ballot, thinking that would improve their chances because in this red state, Ari, competitive Republican primaries turn out social conservatives in greater numbers. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade triggered a surge in voter registration mainly, it's thought, among abortion rights advocates. And that's made it closer than expected. With a record turnout predicted, the most recent poll shows amendment supporters with about a 4% lead over amendment opponents, with about 10% of voters still undecided. So if the amendment passes, the legislature will likely add or at least attempt to add new restrictions, which could include a ban.

SHAPIRO: All right. Finally, let's turn to Arizona, where KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young is following the election. And Katie, in your state, an old abortion law is on the books, like the one in Michigan. How could tomorrow's election shape the future of abortion in Arizona?

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: Right. We have a law dating back to the 1800s, decades before Arizona even became a state. And debate around that law has really moved one of our down-ballot races here into the spotlight. And that is the race for the state attorney general. And the reason is there's a lot of confusion right now about what is actually legal in Arizona without Roe. The pre-statehood law outlaws abortions with very few exceptions, and that's never been repealed. But we also have a number of more recent laws that restrict abortion in various other ways.

So the question is which law are providers supposed to follow now? Our current state attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, says the old ban from territorial days is enforceable, but Brnovich is at the end of his term. So both sides of the issue are now really focused on who will replace him and what the next AG's interpretation of Arizona's law will be.

SHAPIRO: So Arizona's next attorney general is going to have a lot of power. What are the candidates saying about how they would enforce these conflicting abortion laws in the state?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, on the Republican side, there are six candidates vying for a nomination in tomorrow's primary, and they've all indicated that they would plan to enforce state laws that restrict abortion. On the Democrat side, there's just one candidate running unopposed, and she has a very different interpretation of the law. She says basically any limits on abortion in Arizona are in violation of the state constitution, which guarantees an individual's right to privacy.

So Claire Knipe is with the pro-choice political group called Arizona List. And they are one group that's now just become laser focused on the AG race. They say getting Democrat Kris Mayes elected is crucial for abortion rights.

CLAIRE KNIPE: Even if we are able to flip the legislature, even if we don't get the governor's seat and couldn't veto bills, she would still have the ability to stop some of this prosecuting and be able to protect folks here in Arizona.

SHAPIRO: Each of you is in a state where abortion may soon become illegal. And so in each of your states, if that happens, where might people seeking an abortion go? Zoe?

CLARK: Yeah. Here in Michigan, actually, after the Dobbs decision, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer sent a letter to the federal government asking for protection for Michiganders who might travel across the international border to Canada to receive abortion services.

SHAPIRO: And Jim, what about Kansas?

MCLEAN: Well, Ari, Kansans won't have many options. Colorado, Minnesota and, at least for now, New Mexico would be their most practical options.

SHAPIRO: And finally, Katie in Arizona?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, our attorney general wants to enforce this old 1800s ban on most abortion in the state, and that's still hung up in courts for now. But the impact is most abortions have already stopped in Arizona. Providers don't want to take the risk while the law is unclear. So already, there are reports of California clinics getting a big influx of Arizona patients.

SHAPIRO: That is KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young, KCUR's Jim McLean and Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark. Thanks to all three of you.

MCLEAN: Thank you.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thanks, Ari.

CLARK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zoe Clark
Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KCUR 89.3. He is the managing director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KCUR and other public media stations across Kansas.
Katherine Davis-Young
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