Rural Support for Abortion Care

Reading “The Left Behind - Decline and Rage in Rural America” during the Kansas vote to protect abortion rights

August 8, 2022

Last week, voters in Kansas voted to preserve abortion rights in the Kansas Constitution. The biggest voting swing happened in small towns and rural areas. Most rural and small-town voters still favored the amendment, but the vote shows that rural communities can swing from one election to the next, and those swings decide elections.

Biggest voting swing to support abortion rights happened in small towns and rural areas.
book cover

I just finished a book about Kansas culture and politics that offers some insight and context into how this happened. Robert Wuthnow’s The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America notes most rural people in Kansas “would only vote for pro-life, anti-gay candidates… small communities nationally were decidedly more likely than large cities to oppose abortion…” But there is more to it than opposition. For many people that oppose abortion, their position is based on a more central principle — community-oriented sensible solutions.

Looking at the successful abortion rights campaign, we can see how they effectively addressed rural values and showed that support for abortion rights is an affirmation of those values.

1. Rural Voters are Pro-community

Understanding rural America requires seeing the places in which its residents live as moral communities… People feel an obligation to one another.

Wuthnow emphasizes that community is a central value. With that in mind, take a look at how the pro-abortion rights ads emphasize a community message.

“It’s an impossible choice… I had a three year old son at the time and a husband… if I didn’t have an abortion, they would be without their mother and their wife.”
“As Christians we are instructed to love one another. We do so when we respect and trust women as God does. I’m voting No… because it replaces religious freedom with government control.”

The ads show respectable people advocating for abortion rights. They also make clear how banning abortion would harm communities and hurt the people we love. A vote for abortion rights is a vote for people who support community values and take care of each other.

2. Skeptical of One-Size-Fits All Mandates

Washington’s cultural distance from rural communities implies that it functions as a massive bureaucracy imposing one-size-fits-all rules on everyone…

The statewide initiative to ban abortion may have suffered for the same reasons people are skeptical of DC policy: it’s an ideologically-driven mandate that limits freedom. Voters considered how the policy could impact real people and voted against it.


3. Skeptical of Partisan-Driven Conflicts

Politicians in contrast seem to be at each other’s throats about everything… The contrasts could not be clearer, and they do not focus on a single issue or policy. Rural communities are close, personal; Washington is distant, impersonal… Rural people know when to help and when to leave people alone; Washington intrudes unhelpfully in people’s lives.

Most rural people want practical tools so they can take care themselves, family, and community. They are skeptical of politicians and political parties. Prior to the abortion vote, MAGA-Republicans failed on numerous attempts to create mean-spirited mandates, including attempts to police gender in youth sports, ban accurate school curricula, and strip cities’ ability to pass local laws. People in Kansas are looking beyond political party and MAGA ideology, and according to Wuthnow, want “people who believe in common sense [to] try to figure things out.”

The Left Behind explains people’s values in rural America and how disinvestment has contributed to anger. In line with Wuthnow’s findings, people in Kansas voted to preserve the right to abortion because they saw it as both moral and practical. They empathize with people who need abortion care. They also see government intervention in healthcare decisions as unnecessary and destructive. The campaign to protect abortion care effectively engaged voters with messages that speak to their values.

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